Choosing a Retirement Home

Step-by-step guide helps you make the right choice

Whether you’re a senior wanting to move out of your own house or a family member whose loved one needs help, searching for and finding a good retirement home is a quest. You’ll plan all you can, you’ll probably run into obstacles, and eventually you’ll reach a decision. Below, we include all the important steps to take. It’s also important to know how to deal with “things that come up,” and with that in mind, we include stories from other people’s quests in our description of the process. 

We hope this guide helps you deal with “things that come up,” and keep courage to move forward to make a change for the best. This is a major decision. It’s worth your while to do all you can to make it the best decision you’ve ever made. 

Download our free eBook The Ultimate Retirement Tour Checklist for tips and advice about choosing the right retirement community for you or a loved one.

Step 1: Gather all your resources
Some people start the process of looking for a retirement community with a lot of lead time, while others begin with more urgent, pressing needs. For those facing more urgency, it’s still important  to keep perspective. Remember to breathe deep as often as needed and stay calm.

Gather as much knowledge as you can. Research as much as possible, beginning with this article, and follow further research directives discussed below. Understand everything you’ll need to know. Begin with an inventory of everything you already have plus resources ready for you. This includes: 

  • Government and professional help. These resources will include all the people who can help you, plus all tools out there. Tools include government agencies, for example, Alberta Health Services (AHS) for Albertans, or The Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) in Ontario (currently restructuring, but still offering assistance to families in need). 
  • Online help and other free resources. There are many online tools, also, including resources on, which gathers 18 years of research and development to include a collection of features that will help you decide. 
  • Family and friends.  Most important of your immediate resources are family and friends, where many people start. In most cases, there is one person in every family or group who’s suited to take the lead in what is essentially a project. 

When Yvonne* realized that her mother Hazel* was reaching a breaking point, she knew that, with her 20 plus years’ experience in healthcare, she would bear the load in helping her mom. Hazel was widowed, living in a Windsor-area home where she’d raised a family. The home was now outsized for her, and she’d had two health scares, including a fall, and a fainting spell while Yvonne visited her one day. On top of that, as Yvonne says, “I could see signs she wasn’t taking care of herself.”

Aside from her industry understanding, Yvonne also knew that, as the old adage goes, many hands make light work. She gathered her siblings in a family meeting to discuss her mom’s care needs and how they would proceed from there. Her mom initially resisted the idea of a move, but as Yvonne says, “We got her to eventually just consider the possibilities.” Meanwhile, Yvonne and family members gathered government information and researched things online, as is now customary. 

Step 2: Create lists of wants and must-haves
You want to reach a breakthrough moment like that early, but also in its proper time. Focus on healthy, timely communication and you’ll progress naturally. If you rush through decisions with too much enthusiasm and a lack of the proper tools, you leave yourself vulnerable to missteps. 

Gordon Smyth can tell you firsthand the pitfalls and challenges of his own family’s long journey. His father, Bill, first moved into a London, Ontario retirement home in the early 2000’s, after some brief online research. On the surface, it seemed to be the right fit. In Gordon’s words, though, they weren’t prepared for “the mishaps and circumstances that befall older people.” Bill incurred a broken ankle, and the home they’d chosen was not equipped to offer respite care.

That began a series of twists and turns Gordon will cheerfully share, a course in trial and error. All of those trials, it turns out, were the result of Bill’s not knowing what he wanted. It took some living to discover what that was. He moved to another retirement home nearby for a short while but “for personal reasons,” says Gordon, “decided it wasn’t for him.” Another move followed, and again his dad was dissatisfied. As Gordon puts it, “It seemed like he was  ‘practising.’” While on his own again, new issues arose for Bill. He had a wandering episode that frightened the family. They started anew.

One key part of the new decision, though, was that his “dad now had his list of ‘wants,’” says Gordon. That list “started with accessibility to places like stores, malls, parks that he could walk to.” He also wanted to be able to “exercise and be healthy. He also wanted people he could play bridge with. He has always loved the game. Finally, he wanted an open dining situation, to eat with whomever he wanted to.”  This had been an issue with some of their previous choices. 

As it happens, open dining was one of the advertised options at a new community opening up near them, Oakcrossing Retirement Living. They liked what they heard and when it opened, Gordon’s siblings “came on board after they toured, realizing that it was for the best.” Today, Oakcrossing has been Bill’s home for four years. He’s found a place that has what he wants and needs. 

Step 3: Organize and mobilize
Debbie Raphael can also tell a long story of finding a retirement home for her mom. She was a lifelong professional in the senior care industry, armed with an understanding of options and a personal awareness of how her mom’s needs and wants matched those. Gloria was also prepared for a retirement home, knowing the vibrant social life that awaited her. Even though they were both emotionally prepared, they would still need to organize priorities, when the time came. When Gloria had a significant personal health crisis in her late 70’s, the time came to implement a plan. 

As is typical for many others, there were three key factors they had to know answers for.

Where do you want to go next, is a key proactive question proactive to ask at any time. For most people later in life, there is a common answer: “close to my kids and grandkids.” If your children have moved away to pursue careers, etc., a move closer to them is usual. There are pros and some cons to this. Every family is different, but in almost every case, grandchildren and grandparents benefit immensely from proximity to each other.   

In Gloria’s case, she had to choose between Montreal (unlikely, as that would leave her distant from family), New York (where one daughter lived), or the Toronto area, where Debbie was. Her mom did not want to have to make the choice herself, but Debbie and her siblings thought it was best for her to remain in Canada. So they decided to limit their search to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). 

You need to know what fees you’ll be facing and what you can afford, of course. You must also think ahead to how long you can afford to live in a retirement home. Consult with our fuller look at costs to get the big picture of what you’re paying for, and how to afford the care or community you need. 

Debbie used a collection of tools much like those we offer. “I sat down with mom and did what I routinely suggested to clients and parents,” she says. “We created a spreadsheet, adding 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. We added in other financial resources, and we know how long mom can afford to stay where she is.”

Care needed
Determine what care you’ll need, if any. Also, think about care you might need in the future. Some people know they have developing health care concerns, and in this case, you may want to choose a community that excels in that type of care. 

Debbie’s mom didn’t have immediate care needs beyond a healthy environment where there was staff on hand. However, knowing that care needs can arise at any time, Debbie had the foresight to choose a community where assisted living was available if needed.

Armed with these decisions, Debbie was ready to begin their retirement home search in earnest. 

Step 4: Research online and learn
You should  be researching all along, of course, learning all you can about care types, finances, and the other nitty gritty of your decision. has all the information you need to know. We benefit from our close association with the senior care industry in being able to offer consistently updated, pertinent information to help you as you search. Our ever-growing collection of helpful, completely proprietary tools allows you to refine your search process. These tools are growing into an integrated retirement tour app that will be part of user accounts, launching in the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Using those tools, you can begin personally investigating options near you. 

Step 5: Gain firsthand knowledge with an open mind
“I’d been alone in my own home for ten years, and I’d been thinking about a retirement home,” says Audrie Sherlock. “Then one day I woke up, phoned my two girls, and said let’s go look at retirement homes. They were shocked because I was doing fine on my own, but I just thought it was time.”

Audrie is someone who faced the search head on, wisely, while she was still healthy and active. She would admit that “moving is a tough transition no matter when,” but she wanted to be somewhere that fully supports her needs. “I went to one local place, and i just thought it was too dark. Another place I went to, I walked in the door and not one person said ‘hello’ to me.” She may have been discouraged by some of those encounters but she knew what she wanted, and kept an open mind. 

Persevering and staying open to surprises is an important part of the process. “Joy has a way of  showing up when we least expect it,” says Ingrid Lee in Joyful. Surprise has a way of “turning our thoughts in a joyful direction. These moments can be especially powerful in times of stress.” Audrie had just such a moment when she toured The Meadowlands, in Ancaster

“When we walked in here, the first thing that hit me was the butterfly as you went in, and well, I’m a butterfly person!”  That moment of surprise helped her know what direction to go next. She felt welcomed by Donna Carlesso, community relations manager, as well as others she met. She made appointments and investigated further but she knew, and in her words, “that was it.”  Even then, though she’d “already made up [her] mind,” she says, she still took the wise step of taking a trial stay there. It added an extra layer of assurance, and there were other conveniences to this as well. 

Trial stays are something you should take advantage of, if and when you can. Yvonne’s mom’s trial stay helped her understand the Guelph-area retirement community near her daughter was a “better place to be.” A two week stay is the ideal testing time that gives you a full insider’s feel for life in the community.

“A trial stay is one of the ways people can experience our lifestyle first, if they’re not 100% sure about a change,” says Jill Somerville of Credit River -Verve, in Mississauga. “It gives them a chance to ‘take us for a test drive’ without having to sell their home and make a commitment. We do find that almost 100% of the time, they decide to stay permanently [because] they realize how easy life is without the stress of taking care of a home, shopping and cooking.” 

For Audrie, the trial stay was “icing on the cake,” she says. “It was handy for me, I still had my car and I was back and forth with stuff from the house. It still helped me feel better about my decision.”

Step 6: Make your decision and enjoy it
No one can guarantee a happy ending, but you can best prepare the way for one by thoughtfully following the steps above. Audrie has now been at the Meadowlands for over five years, and she’s obviously very happy. She’s frank in admitting that her story could have turned out worse. “I had a very bad fall and I ended up in the hospital for three months. Absolutely true that if I’d been on my own, I wouldn’t be here. Nobody would have known. Here, there’s always someone looking out for you. And let me tell you, that really gives my family some peace of mind to know that, too.”

Audrie’s a big part of the life in her community, and she enjoys every minute at Meadowlands, where there’s always something to do. The true bottom line for caring families is their parent’s happiness. Gordon Smyth adds, “My own life has been exponentially better” thanks to the fact his dad found happiness at Oakcrossing. Bill has some memory loss and other health issues but his life is the best it can be. He was “never the most social person,” admits Gordon, but at Oakcrossing, his sense of humour shines. (“We all like Tall Bill,” Art Thompson, a peer there, told us last year.) “The staff, the management, all treat him really well, and all know his name,” says Gordon. “They go the extra mile to make things as comfortable as possible.” This April, while under lockdown, he still FaceTimed with his dad, with the help of a PSW. “All in all, dad’s life has been much better than when he lived on his own.”

Hazel is also in her third year at her new home, one she’s come to love. Yvonne proudly boasts that her mom is “flourishing” and never misses her family home. “This is my home now,” her mom says, reiterated in a visit they had this summer, outside on the patio of her Guelph-area retirement home, where Hazel would “rather be than anywhere else.” 

Debbie Raphael is happy her mom has now spent seven years at V!VA Thornhill Woods, where she’s “really enjoying life! The community is very modern and feels more like a condo. She’s extremely independent, requires no medical assistance, and has benefited from physiotherapy and exercise classes since moving in. There’s also a Doctor visiting regularly and nursing staff on hand if they are ever needed.” Of course, the best thing is that she has “become friends with a wonderful group of active people.”

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