Comfort Life - Your guide to retirement & care

Voice of an Expert

There is no better time than now to learn about retirement residences. Like any important decision, making the right choice takes time, research and preparation. But most people skip that important part, instead starting their search about 10 minutes before they need a retirement home. There is a better way.

First of all, don't be afraid to do the research; think of it as gathering information you may never need to use. However, the odds are that you or someone you know will benefit from this information. It's not rocket science and an advanced degree in social engineering is not required. In this case, a little legwork will go a long way.

Generally, it's a fall, a change in health status or the loss of a spouse that prompts people to move to a retirement residence for the support they need. Knowing in advance where to move and what residences you like most will avoid the need to make a hasty decision while under duress. Thinking ahead allows you to make the choice based on your own preferences, rather than leaving the decision to others, who have had this responsibility thrust upon them.

Having a good sense of what to look for and where to find it will give you peace of mind. If there is a waiting list at your retirement residence of choice, put your name on the list. If you get a call that a suite has become available but you're not yet ready to make a move, ask that your name be moved back to the bottom of the list for a future call. In case of a change, you'll know you've got those plans already made.

I encourage people to start now by getting out there and finding out what choices are available to them. Use your copy of Comfort Life, visit the Ontario Retirement Communities Association website ( or call ORCA at 1-800-361-7254 for more information on your choices. ORCA has a "Tips & Checklist" pamphlet on choosing a retirement residence, available free of charge.

Life lease housing developments first appeared in Ontario and Canada more than 25 years ago. In recent years, these communities have become increasingly popular, since they meet the housing and support service challenges faced by the country's aging population.

Living in a life lease community can have many advantages: the units are less expensive to buy and maintain, they offer a solid return on investment and they often provide access to future support services. However, the main benefit is the strong and cohesive sense of community.

Since life lease communities are age-restricted, usually to people at least 55 or older, residents enjoy their retirement years surrounded by neighbours with similar tastes, needs, values, lifestyles and interests. In fact, the life lease concept is more about creating a community than it is about building housing. As residents age, this community becomes an integral ingredient for a happy and healthy lifestyle, bringing a sense of belonging and peace of mind, as residents tend to look out for one another. Residents may also take an active role in managing the property and organizing activities and programs. This provides a sense of purpose that is not possible for someone isolated in a single family home or condominium.

Life lease projects have extensive amenity areas to encourage the community aspect; examples include workshops, hobby and craft rooms, libraries, fitness centres and raised hobby gardens. As well, building designs and programming usually allow for future support services to help aging residents remain independent for as long as possible. Quality of life is enhanced through on-site wellness centres, dining rooms, housekeeping and cleaning services, personal care, transportation and so on. With a minimal level of such services, 65 per cent of residents can enjoy their later years without moving to a retirement home or nursing facility.

Resident Jane DeBok of Grimsby sums up the benefits of the life lease concept this way: "The chance to live completely independently, yet amid like-minded people, is a cause to celebrate."

Much has been written about the emergence of home care as a service critical to the health-care system, and most Canadians would prefer to recover and remain at home for as long as possible. Understanding and accessing the right services in a timely manner is easier when individuals and families plan for their health-care requirements in advance of the need.

Families should not wait until they are in crisis before accessing home care service. Health promotion and preventative care helps to avoid complications and crises, thereby allowing people to remain safely in their homes. It is reassuring for busy relatives to know that their loved one is receiving regular visits to ensure daily tasks and chores are completed, nourishing meals are eaten and/or prescribed health-care regimens are followed.

Admitting a stranger into the home can be challenging and it is therefore beneficial to experience this before a crisis. Working with a professional service provider agency is a wise idea, as employees are screened, trained and supervised. As well, choosing an agency that belongs to a recognized provincial association may further reassure families. To help select an agency, you can find a list of questions to ask on the Ontario Home Care Association website.

Finally, having selected a provider agency, clearly identify your needs, concerns and health issues. Be open with your service provider agency about what you expect and ask what options are available. The agency will help you decide what type of health caregiver you need and how often staff should visit. If publicly funded care is available, agency staff will help to get care underway and also find other funding. Once home care has started, it's important to communicate regularly with the agency to let staff know what's working for you and what's not. Discuss your needs regularly with your caregiver and let them know what you want from them; remember, service provider agencies want to please you and ensure you are entirely satisfied with the care you receive.

On any given day, long-term care residents outnumber hospital patients in Ontario by more than two to one and the province has more than three times as many long-term care homes as hospitals.

But while long-term care is one of our most heavily used health-care services, it is also one of the least understood. Here are three common misconceptions:

  • Myth: No difference exists between retirement homes and long-term care homes.
    There is a world of difference. Long-term care homes are part of our publicly funded and regulated health-care system; retirement homes are a housing option for seniors. Admission to a long-term care home is based on assessed medical need, while retirement living is solely a matter of personal choice and resources.
  • Myth: I can't afford long-term care.
    Nobody is refused access to long-term care because of financial difficulty. A government subsidy, based on an income test, is available for residents unable to afford the full amount of the resident co-payment for basic accommodation, currently $48.69 per day.
  • Myth: Long-term care is unregulated.
    With a regulatory framework that includes more than 400 care and service delivery criteria, unannounced annual inspections, a public complaints hotline and a website that identifies each home's compliance and complaint record, long-term care is our most heavily and publicly regulated health-care service.

Long-term care services are delivered by a team of health-care professionals. The concept of home is pervasive: residents eat in dining rooms, not off bed trays! Residents and their families participate in care planning, and in the life of the home through resident and family councils.

You can discover this reality from a variety of sources. These include Community Care Access Centres and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care website ( As well, the website of the Ontario Long Term Care Association ( contains contact information for 420 member homes and a checklist for consumers to help find the right fit in choosing a long-term care home.

For news stories on the day-to-day life in long-term care homes, check out the "Morning Report" section on the front page of the OLTCA website.

Most importantly, visit a long-term care home to see for yourself.

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