Choosing a Retirement Home
Step-by-step guide helps you make the right choice
"Knowing what we want means, in essence, predicting accurately how one choice or another will make us feel,” says Barry Schwartz, in The Paradox of Choice. And as he admits, this is “no simple task.” We want to make that simpler here.
It’s much easier to envision how you will feel when you listen to stories told by others who have gone through the process. At Comfort Life, we’ve collected many testimonials and personal anecdotes like the ones on the following pages. These are families and seniors who have found a way to come to a satisfying decision. Listen to their advice and suggestions, and you can begin to imagine how your life will improve, with a well-considered choice.
It can also make your decision easier when you break the process down into navigable steps, So, here they are: seven steps to making the decision that’s right for you and your family.
Assemble your team and get everyone on the same page
Every family is different, as is every person. “I deal predominantly with the adult children coming first,” says Tamara Billy. “They’re inquiring for the parents and then, once they’ve narrowed it down, that’s when they will bring their parents in.”
It’s most important that people work together with a goal in mind. In the case of families, all key parties need to be on the same page. Bring friends and extended family into the picture, too, if they fit. Billy is the marketing manager at the Erinview by Sifton, in Mississauga, where she sees many families united by concern, for instance, for a parent who is alone or who has had a health crisis. Like many in her position, she finds that families working together make an effective, decisive team.
While that seems self-evident, it’s also true that in many families, one person will emerge as a leader, one with the time, energy, and resources to pull everything and everyone together.
Finalize your must-have list
Deb Raphael was “the one” in her family, having many years of professional experience working with families moving into a retirement home. She recalls how she and her mom had discussed moving into a retirement home long before it was necessary. Her mother was very open to the idea, having seen her own mother thrive in a Montreal seniors’ community. Still, when Deb’s mom fell ill, all three factors—place, cost, and care—needed to be finalized.
There are three key factors at this stage.
• Place: Where is your ideal location and how far are you willing to move?
• Cost: What are the fees you are facing and what can your family afford?
• Care: What care do you need now and what do you anticipate needing later?
“We started discussing moving again, but mom did not really want to leave Montreal. She was concerned that if she moved to New York or Toronto [where each of her daughters lived], either myself or my sister would be upset if she didn’t move near one of us. But we wanted her to focus on her own happiness. Then I sat down with her, detailing out the costs. We created a spreadsheet, adding up her monthly expenses to confirm that the cost of living in a retirement home was very similar to what she was currently paying.” (Read more on how to pay for senior care.)
With that knowledge and through that process, the choice became clear. They knew that they should take a closer look at retirement communities in Vaughan.
Now create a wishlist
Now that you’ve done your initial research, think about things that you’d like to add to improve your life. Is there anything you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t been able to? Do you want to be near parkland? Perhaps there’s something that’s been missing from your life for a while. What else would be on the list?
Margaret Godin made a very carefully considered decision to move from Toronto to Ottawa, buying a condo in a building right next door to Villagia in the Glebe. What she wanted—even more than a home in familiar Toronto—was to be near her niece, who lives “right around the corner.” She also wanted a place in the middle of a friendly neighbourhood, with parkland and select conveniences.
She found the Villagia met her wishlist. It’s right in the heart of Ottawa, not far from the banks of the Rideau, with easy access to public transit. “There’s a big mall across the street, a grocery store, a drug store, a bank … everything I want.”
Gather all your options
Like Deb, Barbara Meagher had opened up discussion about her mom’s impending need for senior care years before it was necessary. Then, when the time came to move forward, Barbara says, “I sat down with her, took a big piece of paper and put down all the headings of things that were important. Then, together we filled in the blanks, you know, what’s important, whether there was a pro or a con in this community or other communities.”
Many people today begin their search with Google. There, you’ll find this site, which offers several tools to enrich your research process. These include the ability to shortlist communities that interest you, and to compare retirement homes side-by-side, point-by-point. Use these tools for a more effective and efficient search.
Visit each residence on your short list
Get in touch with communities at the top of your list and make arrangements to visit. Nothing is written in stone. It costs nothing to investigate. You should certainly tour as many communities as you can, and most of all, be prepared to change your mind.
A trial stay or respite stay can be another very helpful way of getting an insider’s look. Yvonne* tells the story of how her mom, Hazel*, was initially very resistant to the idea of moving out of their traditional family home but was willing “to give it a one-week try.” The open-endedness of the respite stay was important for both her siblings and her mother, in that they all felt they had some “breathing room.”
The trial stay, in a strange place in a big city, was a big step for Hazel. However, after a few days, she began to see many advantages, and at the end of the stay, she admitted that “at least in some ways, the retirement home is a better place for me to be.”
Ask the right questions
No matter what route you take, whether that’s a trial stay or a tour, be sure that you know what questions are most important to you. There are services and amenities that may be important to you, but these aren’t really the bottom line. Just ask yourself: does this feel like a place where you’d like to spend more time? Is this a community you can imagine being part of, that reflects your values? Do people there appear happy?
The big question really is: does it feel right? If so, great. If not, look further.
Move forward with confidence
Moving is difficult for everyone concerned. But when you think ahead to the improved comfort and quality of life you’ll be living, that can help make things smoother. Even after the move, there will be a need for habituation to differences in your new life. But after those initial adjustments, you won’t look back. Neither are seniors and families who took the steps above.
Margaret Godin at the Villagia loves how she has been able to personalize her suite. “It was easy to make it my home. I’ve brought things from home, paintings and things. It’s very friendly here, too. You gravitate to people that have the same interests, you develop friendships over time, and I love many of the activities.” Barbara says the residence her mom now lives in, a Delmanor community, “fits her to a T. It’s close, the appearance is wonderful, it’s clean. And most of all, my mom is happy.”
Yvonne knew for certain, soon after the move, that her mom was much better off. Within three months, she had “totally adjusted. We took her back to her house and she said, ‘This is not my home anymore. I have a new home.’” (Read Yvonne's full story.)
Deb is also very happy with the decision that her whole family made together. “My mom loves the community we chose, V!VA Thornhill Woods. It feels more like a condo, very modern! She’s benefitted from the physiotherapy and exercise classes since she moved in, and she’s become friends with a wonderful group of people. They go on trips to the theatre and the casino, out for lunch and movie nights.... She also gets to spend time with me and my family, and still travels to see my sister and my aunt. She’s really enjoying life!”
*Some names have been changed to protect privacy