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Doing research

Chapter 6 - Doing Your Homework

What Makes a Home? - “Is this the right fit?”
You’re considering making a change in how, or where, you live. This in itself is a big step, and in a sense, you’ve already overcome the biggest hurdle in this journey. Now it’s a matter of looking deeper into the options available to you — and there are more than ever before — and trying to find the right fit. For you. Because this is a choice, and like every other stage, it’s up to you.

But with choice can come confusion. We understand that. It’s like when you’re faced with a 20-page menu. So let’s slow it down and return to the three main senior living options: home care, retirement communities and long-term care.
This is a choice, and like every other stage, it’s up to you.

If the idea of staying at home appeals most, and you know that with the right supports you can make it work, then home care might be the place to start. After all, there’s no need to move, and you can continue living your life pretty much the same as always, except now you have a caregiver coming to you. As well, you might also need to make some slight changes around the house for accessibility, just to make it easier to move around your home.

With home care, there are costs to consider, including the renovation of your home to make it more accessible, and also the price of the care you qualify for, assuming you’re going to have to pay for at least part of it. But beyond these considerations, there are some not-so-obvious things to consider.

For one, is the space itself limiting your independence? Can you climb the stairs, cook, stay safe, take care of the bills and do everything else that living on your own requires? Second, are you relying on your kids too much, and if so, is this sustainable? Finally, are you spending a lot of time on your own, or would you perhaps be better off in a more engaging environment? Remember, the answers to these questions may change frequently as your circumstances change.

For other 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 your door, if you need it. You’re still living independently, but you’ve freed yourself up from household chores, groceries and cooking, and surrounded yourself in 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 your 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.

If you’re no longer able to live on your own and have more significant health challenges that require ongoing medical attention and comprehensive nursing care and support — especially if you suffer from memory loss — then long term care may be your best choice. Do you want your own private room, or would you welcome the company of others in a shared room? Do you want to be near your kids, or near your previous home? These questions are key, as is making sure the long term care homes on your list feel right to you, and that you would be comfortable there.

Of course, in long term care, a big step is getting your name on the waiting list; you may not always get your first choice, so make sure you’ve got a close second and even third. As with the other options, it’s always worthwhile to see what’s available, and what the options and costs are, before making a decision.

Is this Home?

Finding the right fit isn’t just about matching up your needs with your wants. It’s also about creating, or maintaining, the feeling that this is comfortable and lets you be who you are.

If you’re receiving home care, then it’s about finding the best fit in terms of cost and level of care, and making choices based on your preferences and what’s most important to you. If a move is in store, you need to choose a place that feels like home, says Marlene Williams, executive director of the BC Senior Living Association.

With retirement communities, 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 Williams. “You’re still independent, you still have choices.”

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.

Take the Tour

If you land on a move to either a retirement community or long term care home care home as the next step for you, the best way to know if something is right is to experience it yourself. You need to do more than read the online reviews. You have to get out there and experience it first-hand.

If you are interested in a retirement residence, book a tour. Try a meal. Order a coffee in the café and talk to the residents, the staff, the caregivers. Are these people you can imagine living beside? Is it clean? Are pets welcome? Can you see yourself here?

What are your priorities and preferences? For some, it might be all about the food. For others, it’s a sense of community or surroundings — a cozy book-lined library to read in, gardens to stroll, a shop for working on projects, friends to play a game of cards with.

Take a friend or family member along, to bounce your thoughts off and to share the experience. Or spend the night. Most retirement homes allow you to stay overnight, or even for a week, as a trial. This will give you a true sense of daily life, and is especially important if you’re considering a move to a new neighbourhood or city.

Before taking a tour, create a checklist (or use ours, below) that covers everything from care and cleanliness to rooms and amenities.

Download our retirement community checklist

If you are exploring long term care, it’s important to visit a few options. You may face waiting lists for some homes, so while you may find a place that seems perfect, that doesn’t mean you’ll get into it. Still, it’s always worthwhile checking out what’s available and making sure your first, second and third choices meet at least most of your requirements and preferences. Remember that you will still need to go through an assessment process once you have settled on your choices.

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.

Download our long term care checklist.

With home care, there’s not a tour, per se, but there are many options to consider, beginning with costs. For one, there’s any accessibility upgrades, and finding a reputable service provider to do the renovations. Second, there’s the care itself. What type of support do you require? Are you looking for assistance with daily tasks, or more complex care? If the caregiver isn’t a good match, then you might need to consider other options. Finally, keep in mind that both private and government-funded home care require an assessment, so give yourself plenty of time.

In short, you need to ask yourself two questions: does it meet your needs, and does it feel like home? “This is a lifestyle choice,” says Williams. This is where you’re going to live. And if you’re not going to live well, it’s not the right fit.