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Making the transition

Experts offer tips on what to consider when planning for senior living

Assisted Living Suite. Photo supplied by Trico LivingWell.

Brandie Young is used to facing tough questions. As a lifestyle leasing consultant at Trico LivingWell, she is the first point of contact for Calgarians considering moving into the senior living community that opened this past August at Kingsland Junction at Macleod Trail and Heritage Drive S.W.

So what’s the “tough” question she gets the most?

“Older adults want to know about choice. Many are coming from their family homes, so there’s a bit of apprehension there,” says Young.

“We start by acknowledging that this is not about giving up choice. Rather, it’s about having access to resources that fit with their very personalized health and lifestyle needs.”

For example, she notes Trico LivingWell caters to providing as many choices as possible, whether that be independent in-suite cooking and laundry or assisted living services such as dining and housekeeping.

Choice is also reflected through a suite of social programming options, as many older adults want to remain active, says Young. To that end, Trico LivingWell features a variety of “life enrichment” programming and activities that include fitness classes, an art studio, woodworking shop and scheduled outings.

Trico LivingWell is also the first senior living community in Canada to pursue a WELL v2 Certification. Governed by the International WELL Building Institute, the certification centres around advancing human health through design interventions and operational protocols and policies, as well as fostering a culture of health and wellbeing.

Carrie Erickson, manager of leasing and community engagement at Origin Active Lifestyle Communities, acknowledges there’s a common misconception that by moving into a senior living community, you’re giving up your independence – thus the questions about choices.

“It really isn’t the reality. The supports are there so that older adults can remain as independent as possible,” she says.

At Origin Active Lifestyle Communities, the demand for choice is similarly being manifested within its independent and assisted living communities such as Swan Evergreen Village and Whitehorn Village in the city’s southwest and northeast, respectively, as well as Spring Creek in Canmore.

More recently, it’s also being realized beyond the bricks and mortar of its communities via a relatively new home-based wellness initiative.

Dubbed Origin at Home, the initiative launched just prior to the pandemic as a way for older adults to better embrace the aspects of aging while remaining independent in their homes. It differs than traditional home care by focusing on services such as fitness and nutrition – or even something as simple as staff participating in games and conversation.

“Our customer base is shifting, and how people want to age is shifting,” says Erickson. “For example, loneliness and isolation are real issues that older adults are facing. So Origin at Home is focused on supporting their overall wellbeing by providing services that allow them to age well in their homes.”

The Origin initiative coincides with an independent 2021 survey that revealed Canadians are facing an “aging-in-place gap.” The survey, commissioned by March of Dimes Canada in collaboration with Caregiver Omnimedia, found that more than three-quarters (78 per cent) of Canadians want to age in their current homes. However, just 26 per cent predict they’ll be able to do so.

In situations where the family home is no longer an option, Young encourages older adults and their families to ask senior living providers about their different aging-in-place options.

“It should be a top consideration when they are planning for the future. While they might be able to live independently now, what does the next 10 to 15 years look like?” asks Young, noting that Trico LivingWell independent and assisted living services are augmented by dementia care and 24-hour nursing resources.

In fact, Silvera for Seniors chief external relations office Kyle Fawcett says many of its newer communities around Calgary are built around this model of aging in place. He points to Silvera’s Westview campus in Glamorgan, which offers both independent and supported living options between its two adjacent buildings.

“From both a mental and physical wellness perspective, that transition is going to be much more seamless for the resident,” says Fawcett.

Similarly, Fawcett says older adults should also be asking questions about different affordability options.

“In today’s world, with inflation making it difficult for many to keep up with the cost of living, it’s important to have a spectrum of affordability for those who are in the most need and those who have moderate incomes,” he says,

“We want to make sure people are appropriately housed from an affordability perspective.”

Silvera currently supports more than 1,700 residents living in 28 of its communities with a variety of rent models that includes well-priced, below-market and rent-geared-to-income models – the latter of which is based on 30 per cent of residents’ annual gross income.

Location matters, too. Having options to stay within a familiar neighbourhood can help ease that transition out of the family home, says Fawcett.

“That connection to community is so important,” he says. “It could be that there’s a location in Calgary that makes sense for them because they’ve lived there in the past, or family is nearby.

“We want people to be comfortable with their decisions. So we try to make sure our communities are geographically dispersed in the city largely for that reason.”

In addition to operating in all four quadrants of the city, Silvera is in the process of breaking ground on a new community in Livingstone, which is located within Calgary’s north central corridor north of Stoney Trail.

Other questions to ask when considering a senior living community might run the gamut from food to air quality, says Young.

“Everything from the quality of it to where it comes from and how it’s prepared,” she says of the questions she often receives about the menu at Trico LivingWell. “And air quality. Prior to the pandemic, no one asked me about air quality systems. Since then, it certainly has become top of mind.”

Fawcett adds many of these questions can be answered by simply touring different communities.

“One of things we’re looking to do in 2023 is offering more of an experience to older adults looking to move out of their family homes into a more supportive living environment,” he says. “Perhaps they’re not sure what that looks like. We want to give them a better taste of what that looks like, and to show them the many different life, learning and leisure options they can access on a daily basis.

Looking ahead, local providers anticipate supply will struggle to keep up with demand from what’s being dubbed the “grey tsunami” – particularly around funded supportive living.

Erickson says that after seeing demand dip during the pandemic, the market has shifted the other way over the past 12 months. Three-quarters of Origin’s communities were already full at the end of 2022.

Trico LivingWell, meanwhile, is currently leasing with limited inventory. However, Young anticipates the community will be operating on a full waitlist by the end of 2023.

Fawcett notes the supply at Silvera’s 28 communities continues to fluctuate monthly, with availability subject to multiple factors such as levels of affordability, required services and geographic restrictions.

“What I can say is, particularly over the last half of 2022, we are seeing an increase in the number of people connecting with us looking for affordable housing that’s suitable to their needs,” he says. “And as baby boomers start to require additional supports, we anticipate that demand continuing to increase.”