What lifestyle options are out there?
A look at the world of possibilities in 2022
The short answer to that question? Lots of them. There’s a broad spectrum of retirement communities and care levels people can choose from. Here, we look inside each of those options, including:
Read on to get an overview of each, deepened by perspectives from people who live there, work there, or trust their loved ones to those types of communities or care options.
ACTIVE ADULT LIFESTYLE COMMUNITIES
Active adult lifestyle communities are also called “55 plus” or just “adult lifestyle” communities. They’ve been a big trend in retirement living for years now, because of their broad appeal to anyone who has emptied the nest and wants to simplify their lives. In contrast to conventional retirement homes, they tend to be bigger, more spread out, and attract a younger crowd. Similarly, though, people here leave a lot of the mundane burdens of property and home maintenance to someone else. Communities are staffed with maintenance personnel, security, and more. With these communities, leisure time is literally a focus.
Communities are built around fun, shared features that may include a clubhouse, shuffleboard, golfing, a recreation centre, swimming pool, and many other such amenities. Places listed in our directory boast hundreds of onsite activities and options. This lifestyle has less emphasis on care, though you can always hire your own if needed. That said, many offer increasing options so that residents can indeed age in place, bypassing or delaying the need to ever move again.
Planned for older people
“Building communities is more than just building homes,” says Shakir Rehmatullah, President of FLATO Developments, the name behind Edgewood Suites in Southgate, Ontario. “We strive to create dynamic and vibrant neighbourhoods.” That description suits many active adult lifestyle communities found across the country, places planned with older people in mind.
Edgewood Suites, for example, is located on a lush, country setting, with pathways that wind through the grounds. Shared amenities on site include things like a cards room, a barbecue patio, games room, and more. Regular events include fitness classes, wine and cheese socials, movie nights, and clubs focused on activities as varied as pottery knitting, drama, and more.
More communities are found in bucolic settings like that. At Hamilton’s St. Elizabeth Village, Janis Peters says, “We refer to our place as a cottage. As you drive into the village, you’re instantly in a park-like setting.” The Village features a 12-acre pond, around which many of the community’s houses are situated, in a town-like development taking up 112 acres. While it’s nested in Hamilton’s Mountain District, it’s also wonderfully secluded.
Janis has lived there for over 12 years now. At this stage, she says, “I wouldn’t move for the world. It’s one-of-a-kind living.” For her, the Village is not a collection of buildings but, as she says, “It’s the people!” People’s shared backgrounds and vibrant lifestyle create a “sense of caring for your neighbours. The group activities available are wonderful. You can join in or watch from the sidelines—no pressure. It is our home and our choice.”
Communities also offer creative ownership options. The Meadows of Aurora, north of Toronto, and St. Elizabeth Village, for example, offer life lease options, allowing you to retain equity in your home, and benefit from the increase in its market value. Condos at River Crest Estates can be purchased outright. These options add another layer to the unique mix of freedom and security that distinguishes active adult lifestyle communities.
Shared amenities, shared experiences
At The Crossing in Garlands Crossing, Nova Scotia, Dianne Goulet owns her own bungalow, but leases the land. “There are mini homes, semis, cottage homes, and now apartments in the community.” What she loves about it is that, as with other planned communities, “everything is right here. We’re near a hospital and we have all the amenities, everything you need.” She likes the community garden on the property, as well as the apple orchard and blueberry patch.
Shared amenities and community features are really meeting places, though. At Two Neptune Drive - Reuben Cipin Healthy Living Community in Toronto, for example, there’s a rooftop terrace, as well as exercise classes, concerts, karaoke, and more. Sifton Riverstone Retiree Apartments in London also offers a rooftop restaurant, a social lounge, and self-directed clubs and activities. Mahogany Platinum in Abbotsford, BC is a high-rise condo with a fitness studio, an indoor pool, and more. The shared features help create a “mishpoche,” as one resident of Two Neptune Drive puts it: an extended family that often includes children and old friends who visit.
Rin VanHemert lives in the Meadows of Aurora, a Christian adult lifestyle community, and she puts it like this:
We’ve made many friends since moving here. You can’t walk around without meeting new people. After you see them a couple of times, it seems like everybody is your friend.
Like others, she and husband Alex were glad to have made the move before personal health issues got too serious. “We’ve seen people wait too long,” says Alex. “They find themselves in a situation where they can’t look after things anymore.” They, too, marvel at how people get along and “differences aren’t talked about” because everyone is similar in age and background.
The sense of community is the biggest factor for us. It’s great to have neighbours close. Knowing that if we need someone, we can just walk across the street, knock on the door, and some- one will give us a hand. We know that we have each other’s back. The house is a smaller house, although we have plenty of space. But a smaller house means less stuff. Less stuff, less maintenance, less cleaning, more time to do stuff [like] travel or socialize or whatever we want, instead of just trying to maintain what we have. That’s really been a plus for us.
The phrase “active adult” applies to all of us, though, doesn’t it? That phrase is used by retirement homes— just one way in which definitions of care or community types overlap with each other. Terms are also used and applied differently in different provinces, as we will note. Keep that in mind, as you read further.
Andy Wong has one regret about his mom being at Gilmore Gardens in Richmond, BC. “If we knew about it sooner, I think we would have skipped past [her living in] a condo and instead gone straight from the family home into Gilmore Gardens.”
What Andy and his mom both love about life at Gilmore Gardens is the service. “Being in the service industry myself,” he says, “I know excellence when I see it.” For him, the community is not just a place but an atmosphere. “My mom can do as much as she wants there for as long as she wants. She has her independence as well as the ability to participate in any kind of activity.”
A proactive move to an easier lifestyle
If you’re selling a family home or you feel the need to downsize, many people assume the next move is a condo or apartment. That step was a waste of time, according to Wong. The services available in independent living at Gilmore Gardens were simply superior to any other lifestyle.
When my mom was living in the condo tower in Burnaby, we would go out and have dinner together maybe once every three weeks. But with her staying at Gilmore, we can have dinner and lunch with her any time. So we make it a weekly thing.
Conveniences that his mom enjoys there include housekeeping done by someone else, easy access to an array of activities both in the community and just outside, and having all her meals prepared and cleaned up by someone else.
When you don’t know anything about senior living, the first thing people think about is a nursing home. This is nothing like that. It’s more like a cruise ship than anything else.
Communities are filled with amenities many seniors consider beyond their reach. Typical features include an in-house bistro, pub, swimming pool, movie theatre, salon and spa, golf facilities, a library, a woodworking shop, and more. Chef-prepared cuisine is often included. Everything is done for you and done to the highest standards. The upshot of all this is that the lives of both family members and seniors improve. As Mary Lou, resident of Hawthorn Park Retirement Community in Kelowna, says, “My family knows I am safe and happy here.” There are people and staff around 24/7. Many times, communities also offer higher levels of care, should that be needed later.
“The relief I’ve felt has been absolutely immense,” says Fredina Elliot, whose mom, Theresa, has a happy home in Aspira Bolton Mills Retirement Living, in Bolton, Ontario. “We were all worried whether mom was eating right or sleeping right. Now, I’m not worried nearly as much as I used to be. If anything is noticed by staff, I get phone calls. The number one thing that gives me comfort is knowing that she’s happy and she’s safe and she’s being well cared for.”
Rick McDonnell also vouches for the value of independent living. “It’s a really good atmosphere for the people living there,” he says about The Village of Erin Meadows in Mississauga, where his dad lives.
“The fact that my parents are no longer having to deal with home ownership and all of the things that go along with that, they’re in good condition. It leads to self improvement. With the staff there to help people, it just in general improves the quality of life.”
That includes things like outings to museums and galleries, casinos, shopping, and more, all in the company of people your own age and with whom you share a background and interests. Shirley has been at Harmony Hill in Oshawa for several years now. “There’s always something to do every day and many nights,” she says. If her daughter wants to visit, she needs to “pencil her in.” Shirley is always having fun. On another hand, “You can be as quiet as you like,” she shares.
While it’s a volatile real estate market in 2022, many people still own homes they purchased decades ago and sit on more equity than they ever considered possible. This is a move into a lifestyle where everything from housework and cooking to climbing stairs and cutting grass fade from memory. And for all that, it’s the peer group that many love the most about their new life.
Living alone in a condo was dragging me down. This has brought me to a higher plane in life, [better] than just sitting at home alone. [The social aspect] is up to the individual themselves. Some people are content to just sit in the room and listen to music or watch television or read a book. Other people like to be with people. [If] you come down to the lounge, there’s always somebody around to sit and chat. They bring bands in every once in a while, and the people are clapping and the toes are tapping and [everyone’s] having a real good time.
Connie was fortunate to be privy to insider’s knowledge of Baycrest Terraces in Toronto, as she shared in an Insider Perspectives video on Comfort Life. “I got to know the community through my uncle’s living here first.” Through that, she learned that “there’s a concerted effort on the part of the staff to individualize everybody’s care plan.” She now finds herself thriving at the community, where everything about the setting “helps us live fully and actively.”
Baycrest Terraces is one of many communities across the country that offers independent living, assisted living, and memory care all under one roof. “When I moved in,” she says, “they paid attention to what my needs were and they were attentive. My first reaction was, ‘I’m home.’ This is a place where I can stay with comfort.”
Her assurance should be felt by everyone considering assisted living. High-quality, privately run retirement communities like Baycrest are prepared to care for residents’ needs. “I need to be able to have a medical response,” she says. “Most of us here [just] need access to medical care.”
Get specific help when you need it
That’s what assisted living is really all about. Seniors get specific help with physical or cognitive health care needs. Most of us take for granted everyday activities of daily living (ADLs)—the ability to eat, bathe, dress, and care for yourself independently. Older people find some or all of these tasks painful or otherwise difficult to manage. Hence, assistance.
This is handled slightly differently between various provinces. In Ontario, assisted living is all privatized. It’s not covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), though you can inquire about support from your local branch of Home and Community Care Support Services. Because of this, assisted living is offered flexibly among different communities. In some communities, residents can purchase assistance for specific needs as they come up, while staying in an independent living suite. Others require you to live in a specific part of the building, where it’s easy for the community to provide residents with the dedicated staff and services residents need.
Communities in the province of Alberta use the term “supportive living.” Cases assessed as “designated supportive living” can receive financial aid from Alberta Health Services. In the province of British Columbia, eligible seniors may have assisted living paid for by BC Health.
When a loved one is supported in assisted living, families are often overwhelmed by relief, not only at the care received but the revitalization they witness. Denise Foster is one adult child who helped her mom, Vivian, move into Granville Gardens in Vancouver.
She wasn’t motivated to be connected to other people. She wasn’t taking part in any activities in her community. She had a lot of issues related to pain in her knees, pain in her hips. When she moved into Granville Gardens about two years ago, I felt that she would probably get worse quite quickly. But what’s happened is the exact opposite. She’s thrived there. It’s the motivation of the staff. If somebody had told me my mom would be going to yoga, I would have said there’s no way she would even participate in that. But she just loves all the activities there. She’s made new friends there. She loves the food. She loves socializing. And the staff has told me she participates in everything. She’s come full circle since she’s been there.
Someone is always around to help Vivian. She “gets her medications administered to her at least three times a day.” Denise knows that “she’s in the dining room three times a day. There’s somebody physically with their eyes on her at least six times a day. I’m relieved to know she’s well looked after.” Denise and others whose loved ones have found new life in assisted living “no longer worry about what’s going on daily. It’s definitely a real stress reducer.”
It wasn’t even quite that long after she moved in. She took a fall in her bathroom and split her head. At 5:30 in the morning, she just pulled the call bell, and there was a nurse right up there. They assessed the wound and she needed stitches. They were right on the phone, calling the ambulance. They called me directly and it was all looked after! I was able to jump in my car and meet her at the hospital. If that happened to her in her own apartment, Lord only knows what the outcome would have been, right?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive dementia with no known cure. Other forms of dementia are similarly intractable. Treatments developed in recent years have helped manage symptoms, and therapies help improve memory, mood, and well-being. Families can offer caregiving, and supplement it with home care to mitigate care requirements during early to middle stages of these diseases. However, these solutions have limitations, unfortunately.
Professional care for Alzheimer’s and related dementias improves all the time, though. While this type of care is costly, families gain relief when a loved one finds a home in a memory care community. Here, specialized environments are adapted to the needs of those with dementia, and care staff fully supports residents.
Memory care often includes 24-hour on-site medical staff, including nurses and doctors. Other care staff are also on hand, trained to help patients and family members deal with the physical and emotional aspects of the illness. Communities offer therapeutic environments like calming rooms, along with security that keeps seniors safe from wandering.
You’ll find specialized dementia care neighbourhoods in many retirement homes listed with Comfort Life, including all Schlegel Villages, Delmanor Elgin Mills in Richmond Hill, Symphony Senior Living communities in the Ottawa region, and state-of-the-art Verve Senior Living properties like Vancouver’s Village Langley and Mississauga’s The Shores of Port Credit.
The right environment, trained staff
The Shores of Port Credit, for example, offers self contained households, limited to 15 people each. This gives residents a sense of familiarity that minimizes confusion attendant to dementia. The cutting edge design emphasizes natural light, with access to an enclosed outdoor terrace. “There’s a rhythm that gets interrupted with these diseases,” says Jodi Flanagan, a marketer there. “Natural light is a big part of treatment.”
Schlegel Villages has been a leader in design for dementia care for many years. Along with neighbourhoods specifically set aside for those with the disease, its signature LIVING in My Today program focuses on wellness over dementia’s negative outcomes. Communities focus on managing residents’ sensory overload, for example. Staff are trained in the gentle persuasive approach, focusing on respectful responses to negative behaviours associated with dementia. Programs at other companies, such as Delmanor’s MemoryPlus program, also focus on the distinct needs of patients. MemoryPlus residents can engage in work, physical fitness, and a life that feels continuous with what they’ve known. “We look at dementia through that alternate lens of the person who needs care,” says Elaine Wood, vice president of operations. “It’s about saying to people, ‘although I have dementia, I’m still me.’”
The Village Langley remains a premium example of cutting-edge memory care in Canada. The fiveacre, enclosed community of cottage-like homes is purposely built for people living with dementia. Elroy Jesperson, project leader, took inspiration from a similar village in Holland. Like other approaches, it de-emphasizes limitations, instead creating a “dementia-capable community,” says Jesperson. There are “purposeful, meaningful activities” for residents to take part in there. A community like Forest Valley Terrace by Symphony Senior Living, in Orleans, represents a more common, yet similarly progressive approach to memory care design. The Terrace includes technologies to protect those in care, as well as employment of designated resident specialists (DRS). Each DRS is assigned a discrete group of residents with whom they become deeply familiar. Virtual dementia training gives staff deep sympathy for those struggling with symptoms.
Family members like Donna O’Connor praise the “very thoughtful and caring” staff. Her 93-year-old mother moved into Forest Valley Terrace in September of 2020. She’s thrived in the new environment. “It was very difficult for us to manage her continuing care,” says O’Connor, but her mom “transitioned well” to the “wonderful and welcoming place” where she’s safe and cared for.
A lot of anxiety was removed. Mum was getting the medications, we knew she was eating well—those types of things. We became daughters again instead of caregivers. StayWell allowed us to have a lot more daughter moments together with my two sisters and myself.
Across Canada, long-term care is administered by provincial governments. There are often wait times to get into facilities, especially a community you might desire. Some long-term care (LTC) facilities are attached to privately run retirement communities that offer more basic kinds of care, often under the same community name.
Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the 2022 Comfort Life Retirement Guide