“After my dad passed away, within weeks, my mom decided to start looking at moving into a retirement home,” says Debbie Raphael. “My sister and I agreed that mom was too young and we talked her out of it at that time.” That was 2005. However, when her mother moved eight years later, planning ahead, understanding the advantages offered by retirement residences, and keeping an open mind paid off in success.
Debbie’s full story, below, shows how to successfully navigate the complications that can arise when moving forward with senior care. Specifically, several elements of a successful decision process are exemplified: thinking ahead, communicating clearly, understanding options fully, researching thoroughly, then making a decision everyone is confident in.
Around 2005, Debbie’s parents were living in Montreal. Her sister was with her husband and 3 children in New York City, and Debbie and her husband were living in Toronto with 2 young kids. Tragedy struck when her father passed away, and to everyone’s surprise, within a few weeks, her mom was asking about moving into a retirement home. Debbie was a veteran of the seniors’ care industry herself, and she knew this was unusual. “Mom always liked the idea of living in a retirement home because my grandmother lived in one of the first retirement homes in Montreal, and she saw how much my grandmother enjoyed it.”
Foresight and fact-finding are important aspects of empowering yourself no matter what age you are or what stage you are at.
Still, there was lots of time. “Our family members all agreed that she was too young and talked her out of it. She was only 68 and very active. She was living in a condo where some of her close friends lived. She drove a car, she was in a bowling league, she swam daily, and she was still very social.”
Her mom may have wanted to fill the gap left by her deceased husband, but, as Debbie says, “We convinced her that she should wait because she was too young. There would be a better time to move.” The important thing at this point was family communication, with the result of everyone being on the same page.
Understanding options and gathering information
Fast-forward to 2010. Debbie's mom is recovering from a hip replacement, and she wants to look at retirement homes in Montreal where she lives. “My mother was a retirement marketer’s dream tour,” says Debbie. “She recognized so many people who were friends or business associates of my late father the only problem was that they were all 10-15 years older, and really didn't remember her.” As mentally prepared as her mom was, it was still too early.
However, foresight and fact-finding are important aspects of empowering yourself no matter what age you are or what stage you are at. At this point, Debbie's family knew what her mom must have and they had already created a wishlist of things that would be “nice to have." And this was a good thing.
Her mother faced her first serious personal health crisis soon after. “She went into the hospital for a routine test, then shortly after she came home, she knew something was wrong. She was in so much pain she called her doctor who told her to call an ambulance, and she was rushed to the hospital.”
The gravity of the situation hit home with the entire family. “She needed emergency surgery in order to save her life,” says Debbie. “My sister and I dropped everything, left kids with husbands, and flew red-eye flights to be at her side. My mom’s world had been turned upside down. She was sent to rehab to recover but was not confident or strong enough to go home right away.”
It was time to research senior care more closely than ever before.
“I got phone numbers of retirement residences in Montreal and started calling to find out if they would accept her, because hardly any communities were accommodating tube-related care anymore. Luckily I was able to arrange for her to live on the assisted living floor of one of the retirement residences for a short term recovery stay.”
This was an important step for Debbie and her family in gathering all her options. Her mom did recover and move back into her own home, but she was changed by the experience. “She became very dependent on my aunt (who also had some health-related issues), as well as my aunt’s husband and children. They would take her to get groceries, doctors’ appointments, and keep her company. She was no longer strong enough to bowl or swim. She no longer felt confident leaving her home on her own.”
At some point you the child have to take on the role of a parent and just say it like it is.
It was time to think about whether Montreal was really the best place for her. Her mom’s health did improve over the next while, but Debbie knew the time was coming. “All the signs were there."
Debbie knew well what step to take next. "I sat down with her and started to do what I routinely suggested my clients do with their parents. We created a spreadsheet and added up all of her monthly expenses to confirm that the cost of living in a retirement home was very similar to what she was currently paying, and to figure out if she moved, how long she would be able to live in a community based on her finances.”
Realize when it’s time to find a better environment
Sometime later, her mom had a second health crisis, caused by kidney stones that resulted in her going into septic shock. “That was the second time she almost died in a few years,” says Debbie, “and my sister and I knew it was time for her to finally make a move.” While visiting her mom that week, they had a serious conversation about moving. “At some point you the child have to take on the role of a parent and just say it like it is. I said ‘Mom, you can’t be home on your own anymore and, it’s time to choose if you want to move to a retirement home in Montreal or Toronto.’” Her mom agreed, under one condition, that “she could take her entire bedroom set with her.”
Debbie started touring retirement communities, the next step in moving forward. She found a community close to her home, V!VA Thornhill Woods, which fit the family budget. It was a smaller living area than her mother was used to, but it also had two large walk-in closets, and the bedroom was large enough to fit her furniture. Debbie arranged for a downsizing company to pack up her mom’s belongings, coordinated with a moving company and Red Coats, who helped her unpack and set up her apartment to make her feel right at home. Thanks to all the diligence and foresight, everything was ready to go. “My mom was able to move smoothly,” says Debbie. “She really didn’t have to do a thing but walk right in.”
A successful move
In September 2019, she marked her sixth anniversary at V!VA Thornhill, a standout among York Region retirement communities. And, as Debbie says, "She loves it!"
She goes on to describe the community as "very modern. It feels more like a condo. She is extremely independent requires no medical assistance, has benefited from the physiotherapy and exercise classes since moving in, as well as having a visiting Doctor in the building and the nursing team on staff when she doesn’t feel well." But of course, the best thing is that she has "become friends with a wonderful group of active people."
Life continues, and her mom is thriving and learning new things. "She got her independence back." Her mom takes part in physiotherapy and exercise classes, she loves having a visiting doctor available, and she takes comfort in knowing there is a nursing team on staff.
Most of all, though, as with many who make this move, she loves the social element. As Debbie relates, "She has become friends with a wonderful group of active people. They go on trips to the theatre and the casino, out for lunch, they enjoy movie nights and live entertainment together… she’s even taken up poker! She gets to see her family and still travels occasionally. She is really enjoying life!"