Choosing a Retirement Home in 2022
Step-by-step guide helps you make the right choice
“When someone feels it’s time to look at these places or have a discussion about moving, that’s the right time to start looking,” says Jennifer Allen. “Strike while the iron’s hot.” She looks back at the experience of helping her mom, Nellie Lockyer, find a new place to live in her hometown of Belleville, Ontario, and says, “It’s not as gut-wrenching as you might fear it will be.”
Jennifer is one of several family caregivers with a story to share. In this guide, we think you will find others’ journeys both inspirational and insightful as you embark on a way forward. Not every senior is as ready as Jennifer’s mother was. For Yvonne*, for example, the experience of even broaching the subject with her mother was, in her words, “painful.” You’ll find a spectrum of perspectives below, presented with the hope that you will find pieces of your own story. The process every family goes through is going to have idiosyncrasies. It’s important most of all to go through the process mindfully and resolutely. There will be setbacks, there will be times of indecision, and there will be challenges. However, following a guide, and listening to others will help you find not just a retirement home but the right retirement home, the one that indeed feels like home for your loved one.
Here are some of the steps you’ll go through in that process:
Step 1: Gather all your resources
Ideally, you’ll begin the process ahead of time, with a clear mind and lots of lead time. For those facing more urgency, it’s critically important to keep perspective and never give in to duress. No matter which category you fall into, there will be stress. Having a spiritual outlet, such as prayer or meditation, can help keep you grounded. Even regular exercise, such as a daily walk through local greenspace, can help you stay afloat. You need to take care of yourself, too.
With a clear mind, gather as much knowledge as you can. Understand all the financial assets available to you. Research as much as possible, beginning with this article, and follow further research directives discussed below.
Take an inventory of everything you already have plus resources ready for you. This includes:
- Government and professional help. Sources include government agencies like, for example, Alberta Health Services (AHS) for Albertans, or Home and Community Care Support Services in Ontario (recently changed from Local Health Integration Networks).
- Online help and other free resources. There are many online resources, most notably ComfortLife.ca, which gathers 20 years of research to include a collection of tools (see below) to help you decide.
- Family and friends. Most important of your immediate resources are family and friends, where many people start. In most cases, one person will take the lead.
Yvonne had over 20 years’ experience in health care, so in her family, she was the right person to take the lead. This project is ideally undertaken by someone who has time for the challenge, and who other family members respect. Yvonne, though, still began this project under some pressure. Her mom, Hazel*, had had two fainting spells, and in Yvonne’s professional view, she could see that her mom was not eating enough and not taking the best care of herself. She’d also been hospitalized with pneumonia. As difficulties accumulated, it was necessary to gather family together, assign roles, and begin to research online, as is now customary. Meanwhile, her mom insisted that she wanted to remain in her Windsor-area family home to the end. However, she was open to considering her options, although in Yvonne’s words, “it took some convincing.”
Step 2: Create lists of wants and needs
Margaret Rousseau’s mother had also had several falls, one of which had led to hospitalization. When she fell and broke her wrist, Margaret knew that it was time to change. As she set out, Margaret’s instinctive knack for organization began with a short list of things she knew her mother wanted and needed.
This list is distinct for everyone. Some people may put an on-site bridge club at the top of the list. Others may love swimming. It’s important to understand that there are a wealth of options out there, and many retirement homes have a long list of amenities and activities. Be honest with yourself and be specific. You’ll likely be surprised to find exactly what you’re looking for.
Margaret knew that, for her mom, Norah Irving, “Dining was an important aspect.” Her mom had always been an expert cook and loved savouring food. Social life and activities were two other priorities. “My mother is a very sociable lady and positive interaction with the staff and other residents was a priority.”
Another aspect was a garden. “When she lived in a condo, she had a lovely English garden and would spend hours there.” Finally, Margaret wanted a place that was close to both her and her sister. With this list, she set out to find her mother’s new home.
As they began their search, Margaret’s sister happened to be away, but assured Margaret of her full support if she found the right place. “We considered six potential retirement homes near us,” she says. “When we saw that The Briton House had an indoor English garden, that immediately drew us in.” Norah was also pleased with seeing all the activity in the community, “and another thing that stood out was [that there were] no obstacles like carpeting which had been the cause of her last fall.” When they realized that The Briton House was exactly equidistant between Margaret’s house and her sister’s, “She knew she had to go.”
Step 3: Organize and mobilize
Like Yvonne, Debbie Raphael also had work experience that gave her a unique window into her own mom’s needs. She’s worked in the senior care industry for over 20 years and is experienced with guiding numerous others through the steps necessary to make a decision. Her mom, Gloria, was excited about the vibrant social life that awaited her in a retirement home.
Even though both of them were emotionally prepared, they would still need to organize priorities. When Gloria had a significant personal health crisis in her late 70s, they had three key factors to consider.
Many people later in life want one thing: to be close to their kids and grandkids. If your children have moved away, a move to a retirement home can be an opportunity to catch up. For Gloria, she had to choose between New York (where one daughter lived), or the Toronto area (where Debbie was). Debbie and her siblings thought it was best for her to remain in Canada, so they limited their search to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
You need to know what fees you’ll be facing, what you can afford, and for how long. Find our fuller look at costs on page 32 to get the big financial picture.
Debbie used a collection of tools much like those on ComfortLife.ca. “We created a spreadsheet, adding up monthly expenses to confirm that the cost of living in a retirement home was similar to what she was currently paying. We added other resources, and we know how long mom can afford to stay where she is.”
Think about what care you need now and possibly in the future. Some people know they have developing health care concerns, so perhaps choose a community that excels in that type of care. Although her mom didn’t need care, Debbie has seen care needs arise unexpectedly for others, and she had the foresight to look for a community with assisted living available.
Armed with these decisions, Debbie was ready to begin their retirement home search in earnest.
Step 4: Research online and learn, learn, learn
“There’s so many resources,” says Jennifer Allen (introduced above). “Look at Comfort Life, for example. You can also learn things at the library, at your local bookstore. Phone communities.”
Become an expert about what’s out there. Armed with all the knowledge you can gather, you’ll see that the more you know, the broader the context you have for making the best decision.
She’s right about Comfort Life. Over almost 20 years, we’ve amassed a wealth of information about care in each province and city, and we’re constantly gathering more information about member communities and what makes each unique. Over those years, we’ve developed a close association with the senior care industry and we offer consistently refined information to help you as you search. Our ever-growing collection of helpful, completely proprietary tools allows you to refine your search process.
Once you’re deeply informed, you’ll come to a place where you’ll be more certain of the rightness of your final decision. “Mom could tell from the brochure [of Arabella Retirement Living in Belleville] that it was going to be [better than all of the] retirement residences we’d toured over the last few years,” says Jennifer. Having learned all she had, she knew that she wanted the “uplifting decor and colours” and “on-trend flooring and fixtures” of Arabella.
Step 5: Gain firsthand knowledge with an open mind
Denise Foster started with a short list of recommendations and found that Granville Gardens was the closest match with her budget. Her mom, Vivian, had “dementia [that] was getting to the point where she couldn’t stay at home with my father,” says Denise. When she got a tour of the community, “we were provided with all the information we needed.”
She committed to a trial stay. “Our intention was that mom would live there for a month on that trial basis and we would see how it went.” It was a revelation, though. “I initially wondered how my mom was going to get used to things,” she says, but she was welcomed warmly and made to feel at home. “Within the first week of her being there, we realized this was going to work.”
Step 6: Make your decision and enjoy it
We can’t guarantee a happy ending for everyone, but if you follow the steps above, you may well end up as content as Vivian, Hazel, Gloria, Norah, and Nellie.
Before moving into Granville Gardens, Vivian “wasn’t really motivated to connect to other people [and] wasn’t taking part in any activities in her community. She had a lot of pain in her hips and just wasn’t interested.” Denise feared that her mom would decline further but “what’s happened is the exact opposite. She’s made new friends. She loves the food. She loves socializing. Staff has told me she participates in everything. She’s come full circle since she’s been there.” For Denise, “it’s been a real stress reducer.”
Along with her mom, Nellie, Jennifer Allen has also “never looked back.” Her mother “has no regrets. COVID restrictions and protocols certainly added some drama, yet I knew mom was safer than being on her own in her condo. She’s very happy to be free of the worries of home ownership.”
Norah is also happy. Margaret told us of a day sometime after the move when she “took mom out for a little walk and it was just nice.” She also really enjoys the activities. “There’s a nice family feel [there]. My mom has gotten to know a number of people there very well. If I could go back and tell myself one thing, it would be to spend less time worrying.”
Hazel, now in her third year in her new home, has come to love it. Yvonne can proudly boast that her mom is “flourishing” and never misses her family home. “She gets some help with some daily tasks there and she uses a rollator, but she gets more exercise just moving around the community than she ever did when she was in her own home.” Her health has improved to the point where she’s needed medical attention just once in the last two years. Even amidst all the turmoil of the pandemic, she still tells Yvonne, “This is my home now.”
Debbie Raphael is happy her mom has now spent nine 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 benefitted from physiotherapy and exercise classes since moving in. There’s also a doctor visiting regularly and nursing staff on hand if they’re ever needed.” Of course, the best thing is that she has “become friends with a wonderful group of active people.”
*some names changed to protect privacy