Nursing home check

How to Check on an Elderly Relative’s Health and Safety

Holidays are a great opportunity to visit elderly friends and relatives. It’s an opportunity to check in on their health and safety, without being too invasive.


Ask questions without interrogating. Find out if they have a normal routine, are getting around easily, and if there are any new health concerns. If you can, offer to do some small tasks around their home. Simple things like replacing light bulbs, or vacuuming the stairs, can be difficult for an elder with limited mobility.

  • What did you do today?
  • When did you last see the doctor?
  • Is there anything you need done around here?

Personal Observation

Sometimes, it’s easier to observe health and hygiene than it is to ask direct personal questions.

  • Are they wearing clean clothes?  Shoes or slippers that are safe for the floor surfaces?
  • Are their glasses dirty or broken?
  • Do they appear to be losing weight?
  • Do you notice any injuries, like bruises or limping?

Around the home:

While you’re there, casually observe conditions in and around the home.

  • Is there healthy food available?
  • Are there funny smells that might indicate a problem, such as burned food or mold?
  • Are their medications stored neatly? Are any refills needed?
  • Is the bathroom safe, or are there signs of a fall?

At an Assisted Living Facility or Nursing Home:

If it’s an assisted living facility, or nursing home, there are additional considerations.

  • Do they appear comfortable with the staff? With other residents?
  • Is the facility clean and orderly?
  • Do they know when meals and medications are coming next?
  • Is there evidence of incontinence problems, or other physical needs not being directly addressed?

If you observe any problems or concerns at the Assisted Living Facility or in a Nursing Home, talk to the caregiver or floor nurse before you leave.

Get contact information, and promise to follow up make sure the problem is addressed.

Senior Care Corner is a great resource, and has some additional information and ideas for checking in on elderly people.

How do I know if a nursing home is safe?

There is no way to be 100% certain that your elderly relative won’t suffer an injury or trauma in a nursing home.

But when it comes to elder care, knowledge is power. If a home has history of abuse or neglect complaints, it’s a sign of serious, systemic problems.

Search for nursing home complaints 

Medicare tracks nursing home violations and deficiencies. Nursing Home Inspect has organized that data: you can search for a specific facility – for example, “Harborview Hospice”; or by location – “Aberdeen, Washington”. The information is updated monthly, and covers the past three years.     

  • How many complaints – or “deficiencies” have residents filed?

For example, Kittitas Valley Health & Rehab Center in Ellensburg, Washington has a shocking 59 verified complaints.

  • How severe are the violations?

Severity ratings range from “A” violations—the least severe, usually the potential for harm, without actual damage— to “L” violations, the most severe incidents, occurring in a pattern.

  • What actually happened?

Medicare’s incident reports are included; you can see the details of specific incidents, and know what to watch for if you have a relative in that facility.


A search for “Seattle, Washington” found 216 elder care facilities, with a total of 913 deficiencies.


This is a great resource, but one of the best things you can do to ensure a safe, healthy nursing home experience is to go there often, and on various dates and times.

If the residents generally seem happy and healthy, it’s a good sign.

If you suspect something is wrong, you’re probably right. Request an investigation.

See: How to file a Nursing Home Complaint: 4 easy steps. 


About Kevin

Kevin Coluccio was recently named one of the Top 10 Super Lawyers in Washington State. He has long history of successful elder abuse/neglect cases and has a stellar reputation for getting results for his injury clients in serious car crashes, pedestrian accidents, trucking accidents, maritime claims, and asbestos injury cases.