Published on 5 Mar 2020

The changing face of retirement living: what to consider

Sharon Maye
Director, Pembroke-Renfrew County, Carefor 

Carefor staff (left) socializing with Mackay Residential Complex resident.

As the fastest growing population, aging adults have carved a new identify that is reshaping attitudes on aging. It’s based on wellbeing, being responsible for their own health, and wanting to be in control of decisions about their care including where they receive the care. Specifically, seniors and their care partners value accessible care, high quality affordable housing alternatives, assistance with disease management, senior friendly communities, and the right to live on their own terms.

These expectations present various challenges and opportunities across the health care system as health care providers, including at the retirement residence level, learn how to support this population. In larger cities, organizations have created modern senior living communities/complexes with luxury amenities. While such facilities are available in smaller populated areas, these facilities are not a realistic option of those on a limited income.

“Retirement Living” has taken on many definitions, but is still widely misunderstood. The term is applied to assisted living, retirement supportive care facilities, and senior communities – all health-focused by maintaining a person’s independence. 

Traditionally, retirement homes provided housing, some health care monitoring, food and housekeeping services, and minimal, if any, assistance with personal care. Coupled with people living longer with more complex health issues, it is largely what “maintaining independence” means that has caused a change in traditional retirement living and made the sector a vital partner in the health care system. In many cases, retirement facilities have taken on the role of filling a gap between home and long-term care (nursing homes) as they support individuals who do not want to move to a nursing home.

Today, while some maintain the traditional focus, many residences have changed their admission criteria to align with the aging population and their needs. One only needs to visit a retirement home to see the difference. Depending on the residence’s admission criteria and services, it is not uncommon for retirement facilities to have a people in their 50’s or younger. “Maintaining independence” now means providing supportive care (bathing, full medication administration services, dressing), in order to maintain a person’s ultimate level function.  A person is “independently” mobile even if they require a wheelchair, walker, or scooter.

Care staff are actively managing various health conditions including dementia and mental health illness and providing palliative care.  A more recent evolution has been the utilization of retirement facilities on a transitional basis from hospital to home on a short-term basis. This allows the person to recover to the point of being able to return home safely.

Since retirement homes do not receive any government funding, this change in philosophy can be challenging for facility staff and operators. However, it is positive because it offers another community care and housing option aimed at keeping the person “home” longer while providing care that increases quality of life and physical, social, and mental wellbeing – which ultimately should be the goal for every retirement facility.

What to consider when choosing a retirement residence?

  • Do research: Many retirement residences have information packages which outline services and cost. Book a visit for a tour and meeting with someone at the retirement facility. It is always helpful to take a family member or friend with you for support.
  • Care Options: Make a list of what care you need and what you can do independently. For example, do you need help with taking a bath but are able to dress yourself? Do you need help getting in and out of bed? Do you require around the clock health care and monitoring? If so, a nursing home may be a better option.
  • Affordability: Retirement residences do not receive any government funding. When considering whether you can afford the monthly fee, consider all your “income” sources such as savings, pension, sale of home, investments, insurance, or family assistance. Remember, you won’t be paying for heat, hydro, and groceries like you would while living at home.
  • Costs: Ask questions so you understand what is included in the monthly fee. Prices vary depending on room size, level of care, and types of services. For example, at the Carefor Mackay Centre and Carefor Civic Complex, our rates are all inclusive however, in other residence there are extra costs for each service you require.
  • Room Options: Many offer a variety of private and semi-private rooms/suites and, in some cases, apartments. Depending on what you can afford, a semiprivate room may be the best choice.
    Short-term stay option: This is beneficial for a trial basis, over the winter months, if caregivers require respite, or if you require extra recovery before returning home following discharge from hospital.
  • Staffing: What type and amount of staff are available and when?
  • Building and Property: Is the building and property kept in good condition? Is there a sprinkler system in place? What are security features?
  • License: Check if the home licenced with the Retirement Home Regulatory Authority.
  • Other Considerations:  Recreational activities, meal and dining options, and laundry/housekeeping services.

Most important…if the facility gives you a feeling of worth, dignity, provides client-focused services, a sense of community, peace of mind, and comfort it no longer is a facility but place you can call home.

Learn more about Carefor’s Residential Services in Renfrew County.

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