Alexandra MacLean-Kelly has a mission. “Our goal is to leave every family member, team member and resident delighted and alive inside.” Her innovative idea in senior living is the creation of boutique-style housing in the city of Surrey. Her drive comes from the deeply personal experience of watching her grandfather live out his days in a large retirement complex where he never developed a personal connection with his fellow residents.
“I was really close with my grandpa, especially in the last year of his life. When family and I visited him at the retirement home in Penticton where he was staying, I saw firsthand how he felt lonely and isolated in that environment. We encouraged him to go down to the dining hall but he was just too reticent to do that. He would rather stay in his apartment.”
Being from a generation who was raised to not complain about things, his situation resulted in a double bind. “As a family, we could tell that he wasn’t happy, but he was also too proud to voice his discomfort. He didn’t like the idea of so many people around. More gregarious people might like that larger environment but it wasn’t suited to his personality.”
Maclean-Kelly turned the experience into an inspiration. She and her partner, Shawn Kelly, believe that boutique-style residences “can create a new style of assisted living, where friendships & companionships can thrive.”
"This is an opportunity for people to feel like they're doing life together - in a manageable, small group environment.” Boutique-style senior living promises to be a worthwhile alternative, middle ground between remaining alone in your own home and “feeling socially overwhelmed” by a bigger place. “We think it’s going to be easier for some people to embrace. There are seniors who are going to thrive much better, with fewer walls separating them from one another.”
There are some similar communities in Greater Vancouver but many of these are older homes or found in older neighbourhoods where clients might feel isolated from their neighbours and the social scene. “Ours is the only one that is modern, brand new and conveniently located close to shopping and amenities,” she says.
Lifemark Residences' Surrey Community features private bedrooms and private bathrooms, while the rest of the common areas are shared. “This style of living should appeal to people that are active and social, who may have been widowed or who are single by choice ... people who still have a spring in their step but who want built-in familiarity in their living environment.” Team members are an important part of the immediacy created within Lifemark, as well. All carers must live within fifteen minutes of the community.
Among the many advantages offered by this option, there are financial innovations as well that are refreshing. "Care staff can add little nuances that make life better and residents don't have to worry about additional charges for care and services, as it's all included in their monthly rate. There’s also the opportunity for interactions that are more organic. It’s the perfect place for people who want to share their day-to-day life together.”
This is an important new idea in senior care. Maclean-Kelly believes that it could be “a new standard in retirement living.” Certainly, some people will find this an ideal lifestyle. As she says, “This is a lifestyle that offers friendship and the ability to maintain friendship in an environment that is intimate, engaging and fun.”