Comfort Life - Your guide to retirement & care

A new world of retirement living

It was her daughter’s idea, she tells me. Daughters worry when they don’t live close to their mothers. So, while apprehensive, she left her home for this posh downtown retirement residence. She laughs now, a little embarrassed by her needless fear. She has made friends; she enjoys the community, its comforts and the fun she has here. She still has her independence, she says, using public transit to get around the city.

We talked early on in the party at the retirement residence, before the shrimp was brought out, while the band was still setting up. Residents and visiting family were milling about, ready to enjoy themselves.

Not all retirement residences are like this one. Certainly none have continuous parties. But today’s retirement residence managers understand their guests need more than room, board and health care. Today, their goal is to provide for the whole person, meeting their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs.

Improvements and increased competition during the past decade have multiplied choices, making this an opportune time for seniors and their adult children to be looking for a suitable retirement residence.

Certainly, welcome banners are already out for the Baby Boomer Parade expected in the coming decades. Some residence owners are thinking more resort hotel than hospital: raising service standards, offering a wider choice of lifestyles and investing in larger rooms in attractive buildings. At many of today’s retirement residences, activities go well beyond bingo and bridge, and epicurean touches such as wild mushroom risotto are working their way onto dinner menus.

If you are looking now for a retirement residence, you have an early advantage as the retirement industry positions itself to meet the needs of Baby Boomers, coming in droves within the next 15 to 20 years. One in three Canadians are Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1965, reports Statistics Canada. The 55-to-64–age group is now the country’s fastest growing cohort, followed in second place by those over the age of 80, according to Statistics Canada. So it’s no surprise that so much more attention is being paid to the wishes of seniors, whether it’s younger seniors looking for granite counter tops, private balconies and a gourmet chef or older seniors seeking the peace of mind that reliable care and companionship can bring.

As Boomers comparison shop with their parents, their high expectations have considerable influence on the market. We all want “the golden years” to be a time of growth and new experiences. But we know we’ll need warmth and security too.

As residences are expanded and renovated and new developers join the industry, we will all benefit from an abundance of choice. For instance, condominium towers connected to retirement residences now offer an ownership option. In the Greater Toronto Area alone, eight new retirement residences will come on stream this year. Ottawa and London each have four new projects under construction, and three others are coming soon to Windsor.

But with variety come more decisions and more homework. Are you hoping for a high-end condo-style residence that offers a pool, spa, weight room, in-house theatre and restaurant-style dining room? Is quality of care your main concern? Some companies concentrate on upgrading staff expertise and providing a wide range of medical resources, including therapy for physical functioning issues, depression, confusion and dementia.

Is location a key issue? Downtown, close to everything? Or is your heart set on a park-like retreat with trails, ponds and wildlife? Perhaps being close to family or public transit or a good hospital matters most?

If financing is a major consideration, there is plenty of choice within every price range. More à la carte services offer flexibility, for instance, a big change from the days when most packages included three meals, weekly room cleaning and medication management. In many residences, it is now possible to sign up for individual services only as you need them.

This includes health-care services. You will want to look ahead and sort out how, when the time comes, you will access those services. Will you want health-care services available at the residence you’re in (“aging in place” or “continuum of care”) or will you want to move to another building offering more care? This decision is particularly acute for a couple when the partners need different levels of care. Again, options abound. Residences may offer health care in your own apartment when you need it, or they may expect you to move to a home with more care available. Some long-term care operators are opening retirement residences next door to their more health-oriented services so care is close at hand as needs change. Yet other companies are building campus-style complexes that offer independent living apartments with some services, along with both assisted-care and long-term care accommodation. Some even include a community centre and other recreational services, medical centre and pharmacy.

On every front, new life is being breathed into retirement residences and service standards just keep going up. Last fall, Toronto’s Centennial College, in partnership with the Ontario Retirement Communities Association (ORCA), launched a Retirement Communities Management program. At the same time, ORCA is working with the Ontario government to develop legislation, expected later this year, to ensure clear standards of care and service for all retirement residences.

Across the province, there is a growing emphasis on service and selection. You’ll find the time has never been better for retirement residence choices. And as a resident, that client-centred focus will mean you can expect more say in the day-to-day running of your residence, from allowing pets on the premises to adding dinner entrée selections to insisting on green cleaning products. Just like home.

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