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Understanding Your Care Options

An older couple sitting on the couch

There’s never been a better time to grow old. We know that aging brings a wealth of experience, so let’s really embrace it! Besides, Canada has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world. Over the past century, the average lifespan has increased dramatically, and now many of us are enjoying vibrant lives well past 80, 90, or even 100. People may have retired from work, but not from life. How, and where, retirement time is spent is more important than ever.

Today, it’s all about independence and choice. When you consider home care, retirement communities and long term care, be assured: there is an option that will suit changing care needs. But understanding these options and deciding on one can be confusing. That’s why starting your research now is key.

In fact, it’s never too early to start thinking about how our senior years will be spent. Care, for instance, is a little bit different depending on the province, including different funding models and qualifications. And the expectation that the government will cover all of care-related costs as someone ages is, unfortunately, unfounded.

But let’s forget about costs for the moment (we’ll dive into them in a later section). Right now, it’s about understanding each option in more detail, so that when you’re ready to dig deeper, or it’s time to make a move, you’ve got the basics covered. Here are three ways to look at care options.

Home Care: Hands-on Support to Age at Home 

Home care provides people with support to help them remain in their homes. Help may include housekeeping and companionship, bathing and getting dressed, or more involved care such as nursing, physiotherapy or rehab. It may also involve making some changes to the home if needed – maybe a lift for the stairs, a chair for the tub and some handrails throughout. Whatever it takes, home care helps seniors continue to live in their own homes more safely and comfortably.

Each province has its own rules and regulations when it comes to eligibility and funding for home care. Generally speaking, in order to receive government or publicly funded home care, there is an assessment to qualify. To qualify, the agency decides the level of care required, and for how long. There are often special programs for people with lower incomes who qualify and who want to age at home, but keep in mind these programs don’t necessarily cover everything.

If more help is needed, and the funding doesn’t cover the amount of care, people often explore the option of paying for a private home care provider. These providers let the individual choose the care required and the number of hours needed. Of course, this is paid out of pocket. Before selecting a private home care provider, be sure to do your research and make sure you’re working with a reputable company.

If you choose to move ahead with securing at-home care, remember to also think about whether the current living situation is really meeting the social needs. Are there friends and social connections in the neighbourhood that make life rich and rewarding? If the answer to that question is no, then it may be time to consider other options, like moving into a retirement home.

Retirement Homes: The Opportunity for Senior Living

There is one question we hear residents asking themselves more than any other: “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” They tell us that living in a beautiful space designed for their needs and preferences, with a range of activities and amenities, in an environment of people at a similar stage of life, has helped transform their lives.

Retirement residences are all about Senior Living, empowering and personalizing experiences, providing choice, and supporting residents to live their lives with meaning and purpose. Then there is the added comfort of knowing that, as care needs change, more options are available.

Retirement homes offer a variety of options for different care needs, including Independent Living, Independent Supportive Living, Assisted Living, Memory Care, Short Term Stay and Respite Care. Bottom line: in many of our retirement homes, care is available if needed, at the level that makes sense. Many provide nursing care, physician services, nutritionists and other healthcare services. Whether the need is for independent living, minimal assistance or personalized care, we’re here to meet your unique needs and help all our residents to live life to the fullest.

Many of our retirement homes offer LiveWell™, an approach that’s all about making seniors feel their best, so they can keep being themselves. Whether help is needed for bathing or dressing, support with medications, or a hand getting to the dining room for meals, our senior living services respect dignity and support unique physical, mental and social needs today – and those that may come up tomorrow. Retirement homes are privately run but provincially regulated; generally, an individual pays all the costs, including care expenses. Private insurance may help to cover some costs as well.

Retirement homes are all about living in a community, with little to worry about other than how to spend time doing what inspires. And they are as varied as they come in terms of design and amenities. Some are individual buildings; others are more like miniature communities. Some offer gourmet meals, on-site shops and other resort-like amenities, whereas others might have vibrant gardens to stroll, book-lined rooms and cafés for an afternoon drink. It’s common to see brilliant gardens and cozy fireplaces.

With a host of recreational, cultural and social events and activities to choose from, there is something for everyone. Want to get fit? Join an exercise class. Want to hone your artistic side? Share your creativity at art class. Want to visit the theatre? Take part and enjoy the show. And don’t forget about your furry companions – many retirement homes are pet-friendly. Along with letting someone else do the cooking, cleaning and laundry for a change, residents join close-knit community, with a lively social atmosphere and camaraderie.

Unlike long term care, people can move into a retirement residence at any point, to whichever community is preferred (assuming there isn’t a waiting list). To make the right choice, make sure to visit a few times: taste the food, talk to the residents and the staff. Get a feel for the place. Can you imagine yourself or your parents here? 

Planning to visit a few retirement homes? Use our handy checklist to keep track of what you observe.

Long Term Care: When Living Independently is No Longer Possible

Often confused with retirement homes, long term care homes or nursing homes are for people who can no longer live independently, for physical or cognitive reasons, and need supervised care and support. People who require the specialized environment a long term care home provides often have complex multiple chronic health conditions, frequently including dementia.

The decision to move to a long term care facility is often a tough one, both for seniors and their families. Not being able to meet personal needs anymore is hard for anyone because of worries about losing independence and a sense of loss about leaving their home to move to long term care. All of these feelings are natural; it’s important to also keep in mind the social and healthcare benefits of long term care.

In long term care, highly skilled care teams focus on the person – developing an individualized care plan that supports their comfort, dignity and safety. It’s not just physical well-being; social, intellectual and spiritual wellness are also important. That’s why many long term care homes offer a variety of recreation activities, including fitness classes, art and creative pursuits such as music therapy and horticultural programs, and access to computers and libraries. There are also outings, cultural and community celebrations, multi-faith spiritual services and volunteer programs. Here, meals are made with both taste and nutrition in mind.

Long term care homes have different room options – some older homes have only semi-private (shared) rooms, while others offer a mix of semi-private and private rooms. Because long term care is government funded and regulated, the care costs often differ from province to province. Typically, accommodation is shared by an individual and the government (these rates are set by the provincial government, not the operator, and are the same for all residents in a given province), while the government covers the cost of things like care, food, programming and certain medications.

To get into a long term care facility, there is a provincial health assessment, which determines if someone qualifies for the care. There are often waiting lists through the regional or provincial agency, so it’s very important to get a name onto the list as quickly as possible; it’s also important to remember that in some provinces people may not get their first choice.

We encourage you to visit a few long term care homes before making a choice. Each one is unique and has a different community vibe.

Many retirement residences offer additional assisted living and long-term care services even though they wouldn’t be classified as a long term care facility. When considering a retirement residence option, make sure to ask what services are available. Many will offer the services necessary to age in place comfortably.

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