Considering a change in how, or where, to live is a big step. At some point, it’s a matter of looking deeper into the options available — there are more than ever before — and trying to find the right fit.
But with choice can come confusion. It’s like when you’re faced with a 20-page menu. Let’s slow it down and summarize the three main senior living options: home care, retirement home and long-term care.
The Home Care Solution
If the idea of staying at home appeals most, and – with the right support systems – it can work, then home care might be the place to start. After all, there’s no need to move, and life can go on pretty much the same as always, except with a caregiver coming in. As well, there might be a need to make some slight changes around the house for accessibility, just to make it easier to move around the home.
With home care, there are costs to consider, including the renovation of the home to make it more accessible, and the price of the care qualified for, assuming there will be costs for at least some part of it. Beyond these considerations, there are some not-so-obvious things to consider.
For one, is the space itself limiting independence? Is climbing the stairs, cooking, staying safe, taking care of the bills and doing everything else that living alone means do-able? Second, how much reliance is there on other people, and if so, is this sustainable? Finally, is there a lot of time alone, or would a more engaging environment be more beneficial? Remember, the answers to these questions may change frequently as circumstances change.
“This is a lifestyle choice,” says Marlene Williams, executive director of the BC Senior Living Association. “This is where you’re going to live. And if you’re not going to live well, it’s not the right fit."
The Retirement Home Option
For some people, the idea of living in a space that’s specifically designed for senior living, such as a retirement home, is a better fit. Here, the care is right at the door, if needed. It’s still living independently, but free from household chores, groceries and cooking, and surrounded by a diverse community in a space specifically designed for seniors. Otherwise, nothing has changed.
Of course, it has to feel right. If the community isn’t the right style, or it’s lacking in any way — whether it’s the level or quality of care, or the food or rooms, or something else — then this isn’t a good fit. Because every retirement community is unique, you really need to get out there and see what’s available, and what the costs and options are.
It’s about finding a space that suits your style and needs, and that is a match in terms of options, food and overall feel. “The only thing you’re doing is changing the bricks and mortar,” says Marlene Williams, executive director of the BC Senior Living Association. “You’re still independent, you still have choices.”
The best approach is to experience it first-hand. So why not book a tour. Try a meal. Order a coffee in the café and talk to the residents, the staff, the caregivers. Are these people friendly and welcoming? Is it clean? Are pets welcome? Does it feel like home?
Before taking a tour, create a checklist (or use ours, below) that covers everything from care and cleanliness to rooms and amenities.
The Long-Term Care Need
If someone is no longer able to live alone and has health challenges that require medical attention and nursing care and support, then long term care may be the best choice. This is especially true of memory loss, but there are a few considerations. Does it matter about having a private room, or is the company of others in a shared room okay? Is it important to be near family, or near a previous home?
In long term care, a big step is getting on the waiting list; and it may not always be possible to get the first choice, so make sure you’ve got a close second and even third. It’s always worthwhile to see what’s available, and what the options and costs are, before making a decision.
If it’s long term care, it might be more a matter of turning your room into a space that’s as inviting and homey as possible, bringing in pictures of family and other personal belongings.
Visit the dining room and a typical resident room. See how staff members respond to resident questions and needs, and ask about recreation activities. Ask about the Resident and Family Councils – most homes have them, and they can be an important source of input when decisions about the home and resident life are made. Check out the cleanliness of the home, and the accessibility of common areas and outdoor spaces.
It may take a couple of visits to get a feel for each long term care home, so take your time. A long term care home is just that – the home of those who live there.