You are here:

Moving Experience

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from the Victoria Times-Colonist, June 7, 2006.

How do you know when it is time to pack up a lifetime of memories, sell the family home and move to a seniors' residence? As life expectancy approaches 79.9 years for men and 82.4 for women in Canada, according to Statistics Canada, the question gets asked more often.

A large number of seniors start to consider a life change when they lose their spouse. According to retired palliative-care physician, Dr. Mary-Wynne Ashford, sickness or death of a spouse can have a profound effect on seniors. "Not only are they losing their present--they are losing their past."

Jane Dewing is a moving consultant with 25 years in the housing industry and owner of Changing Places, a one-person business that helps clients, mainly seniors, make housing choices and changes. "There is no 'Ah-hah' moment that tells an individual that it is time," says Dewing. "You can use any checklist you want, but in the end every person is different."

Some essential points to consider are:

What type of care you need now--and in the future?

Do you want a private or community setting?

Do you want to stay in the same neighbourhood?

Compare services offered as part of the rent.

Do you qualify for subsidized housing?

What are the extras and how much should you expect to pay for each?

How many meals are offered? Is there any accommodation for special meal requirements?

Are there any restrictions on pets? Smoking?

Ask if there is a security deposit charge.

Check to see if the activities offered are what interest you.

Check with friends or other referrals.

Take a free tour of residence.

Ask about trial stays at residences that you are considering.

But even if the time is right, the decision is never easy. Most people try to stay in their homes as long as they can, relying initially on family and then non-profit and private care providers to take over personal care and homemaking.

Charlotte St. Clair, 81, and her husband, Vic, who is 89, considered a retirement residence but settled on renting in an adult-oriented apartment building. "I talked it over with my husband and family and I felt I can still live in an apartment with just a little help with cleaning and personal care," said St. Clair. "I don't need somebody cooking for me all the time." She downsized into a two-bedroom in a quieter building in a different part of town from a three-bedroom they were in. They say they're settling in nicely.

The final decision may be based on simple economics, a desire to be closer to family, or health issues that require some type of medical supervision or monitoring. Adult children of seniors can also be an important influence as they see subtle changes in their parents. It can be a difficult and trying time as a senior wrestles with a fear of losing independence.

Seniors' housing choices range from independence to intermediate care to full care. The trigger for residential care is when the facilities stop referring to their offerings as apartments and start calling them beds. Care options are:

-Abbeyfield houses--An inexpensive option for the social senior, run by a non-profit organization. Residents have their own rooms but share washrooms, kitchens and living areas. Meals are prepared by a house manager.

-Independent Living apartments with a combination of housing and hospitality services. Residents generally have the option of housekeeping, laundry services and the number of meals they require. Independent Living can include rented, owned and life-lease options.

-Assisted Living--Residences offering a wider range of personal support services such as grooming, bathing or taking medication. Residents can still direct their care but need some assistance. Some facilities have nurses and 24-hour emergency response to medical emergencies.

-Residential Care--Adults living in this setting require assistance with activities of daily living. This type of accommodation includes intermediate care, extended care and private hospitals. A senior's financial situation has a bearing on the choices available. Those who have owned real estate are often more fortunate because they can use the funds from the sale of their house to pay the rent. Low-income adults--defined as any individual or couple with income under $25,000 a year--can apply for assistance with rent.

Victoria Senior Citizens Housing Society executive director, Kaye Melliship, says that some of her income-assisted suites can rent for as low as $235. Her clients usually pay up to 30 percent of their income for rent. At the other end of the range, more well-heeled seniors can expect to spend up to $3,940 for rent and one meal at Somerset House on Dallas Road.

Independent Living is about independence. It can also just be about one less chore to do. Asked why he is in the Alexander Mackie Lodge in Langford, Sy Blair had a simple answer, "I got tired of cooking."

Owned by the Royal Canadian Legion's Prince Edward branch No. 91, the newly built Lodge is a four-storey building with 75 subsidized suites. The facility is staffed 24 hours a day, and provides weekly housekeeping, in-house social activities and two meals a day.

The 90-year-old Blair has been a widower since 1982. Although he gives high praise to the staff at the lodge, he reiterates, "I just got tired of cooking and washing up the dishes."

Housing Resources:

-Senior Living Magazine publishes an annual housing guide, Right, for seniors that covers what's available on Vancouver Island.

-The Senior Services Directory, published by Seniors Serving Seniors, lists services available to seniors from activity centres to veterans' services, and includes a section on housing options.