Retirement living isn't what it used to be

When it comes to retirement residences, lifestyle trumps all

“We bottle our own wine,” says Stephanie Hartwick, who works at Harbour Hill, a retirement home near London. “You know, we’ve got Harbour Hill White, and Harbour Hill Red.”

Certainly not every retirement residence makes wine, nor do they need to, but the approach to new ideas at Harbour Hill, and indeed at perhaps a majority of retirement residences, isn't "should we?" but “Why not?!”

“Again, this is part of your enjoyment,” she says. The wine is served principally at happy hour. “We usually have it on Friday. Everybody winds down their week. There’s music. It's one of our most enthusiastically attended events. It’s a great way to end the week” both for residents and staff alike.

The reality of retirement living is that in lots of little ways but in big ways too, it just isn’t what it used to be. Which, given the feedback from the residents, is a very good thing. Amanda Walker works at a Paris retirement home called the Queensview. She says that “a lot of feedback that I receive is that it’s almost a hotel-like setting. There’s a lot of comfort and warmth when you walk in. It’s not stuffy. It’s open. You’re not getting the old, dark, and dingy.”

"There isn't that institutional feel," says Walker. Apartments include generous balconies and room to entertain. 

That kind of approach is present in buildings like hers, that are built with those lifestyle goals in mind. In the past, she admits, many retirement communities could have a jerry-rigged quality to them, with offices repurposed as meeting rooms, smoking rooms repurposed as libraries. At Queensview, as elsewhere, the rooms are intentional, purpose-built with lifestyle foremost in mind. That includes the seniors’ centre, which was included in the complex when it was built three years ago. “We have a lot of seniors from the community coming in each day,” both for the programs as well as just to be with others of like minds and like experiences.

There are services to match the feel: a spa, an on-site massage therapist, restaurant style meals, and programs that run from poker to pickleball. Otherwise, says Walker, “you do as you wish! … There’s safety and security, quality of life, and socialization, all while having your own apartment.” The guiding motivation is that less is more, and that hands-off is better than hands on. The goal is to provide a setting that allows residents to leave their worries at the door, and to, once there here, to have lots of latitude to organize their own time, their own activities, their own lives, and to be as busy—or not—as they like.

On the day I spoke with Hartwick, the Goderich Art Club was coming by, something that they do with regularity. She is quick to add a few qualifiers. “It’s not a class,” and no one is giving a lesson. “It’s, you know, ‘here’s a bunch of flowers, here’s canvas and paints.’” It’s an opportunity, not an obligation. "You have the ability to come and go as you please. You can take part if you like. If you don’t, that’s fine too.”

“This is retirement,” says Hartwick. “It’s all about choices.” Which, of course, is just as it should be.

-Glen Herbert

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