With an increasing number of Canadian seniors moving into independent living communities, retirement residence operators are being challenged to offer new options to keep their residents physically and mentally engaged.
Many of the seniors tend to have lived in the same house for decades and developed well-structured daily routines such as good home cooking, gardening, walking in the neighbourhood, and socializing with friends and family. The change to a community lifestyle is often a big adjustment.
Tony Baena, president of the British Columbia Seniors Living Association (BCSLA), which represents 159 independent and assisted living buildings across the province, says part of the challenge is that most residents moving into seniors’ communities are from the pre-boomer generation and may not have grown up with access to the type of social, physical and mental programs that are available to their children.
“As a consequence, many of them seldom use a gym or exercise equipment and are not necessarily looking for mental stimulation. That means operators need to help residents expand their horizons through carefully targeted programing,” he says. “The key is for a retirement residence – especially independent living – to provide variety and choice for the consumer, much like a cruise ship.”
Laurie Johnston, CEO of the Ontario Retirement Communities Association (ORCA), which represents over 92 per cent of retirement home suites in Ontario with members providing accommodations to over 57,000 seniors, says there is a very real concern that seniors living in their own homes can become socially isolated. A seniors’ residence, on the other hand, provides a community on their doorstep.
“The social opportunities are fantastic, not only because their neighbours are literally next door, but they can interact with them in all of the different activities that are being offered by the retirement home,” she says.
Ms. Johnston points to polling by ORCA that shows the health and social benefits of living in a retirement home.
“We know that 93 per cent of Canadians agree that social isolation is associated with higher health risks for seniors,” she adds. “For them to embrace a congregate lifestyle that offers all kinds of choice and support is going to improve their health and their ability to enjoy a good life in their later years.”
Choosing the right retirement home is important, says Ms. Johnston. Seniors should do their homework to ensure that a retirement home offers the services they need to age in place.
“We are beginning to see a different generation of seniors coming into retirement homes. Many of them have travelled and have had a lot of different life experiences. Their expectations reflect that, so we’re seeing more dining options, for example, in our buildings,” she says.
Dining options are an important factor for many seniors, says Mr. Baena.
“Apart from following the Canada Food Guide to ensure that meals meet the recommended daily caloric and nutritional guidelines, some operators have residents’ food committees that meet regularly to provide feedback on the menu,” he says.
In general, residents are looking for flexibility.
“Some want multiple dining venues, and most are looking for more than bingo as an activity,” adds Mr. Baena. “They also expect social engagement such as accessible, in-house programming that offers a variety of activities to keep them occupied throughout the day.”
Ms. Johnston says residents moving into seniors’ communities these days are far more open to the idea of very social congregate living than previous generations.
“They’re accustomed to having lots of amenities and lots of choice. They’re going to want to continue with that,” she adds.
PARC Retirement Living, which owns and operates seniors’ lifestyle residences in the Greater Vancouver Area, is one example of an operator that has taken this approach to heart.
Hilary Statton, PARC’s vice president of operations, says the company’s philosophy is based on four pillars: nutrition, physical fitness, brain health and wellness. Wellness includes 24-hour safety, security and emergency response, a wellness nurse on staff for consultations, and a shuttle bus and chauffeur service to take residents to medical appointments and community outings.
“We’ve built our seniors’ communities on the philosophy that attitude to age is fundamental to how our residents recognize and enjoy the opportunities offered by increased longevity,” she says. “Seniors want to lead a healthy, purposeful and full life, and our programming is designed to help them achieve that goal.”
PARC has active living managers and personal trainers who work with residents to modify or develop programs that suit their individual needs, adds Ms. Statton.
Irene Martin-Lindsay, executive director of the Alberta Seniors Communities & Housing Association (ASCHA), says seniors in independent residential communities are more discerning than their counterparts were a decade or two ago.
Finding qualified staff to meet the demand for new types of programming is already a challenge for seniors’ residence providers and will grow as the seniors population increases, she adds.
“We’re in transition from the silent generation to a boom generation. They are not prepared to simply accept that we as providers know what’s best for them. They know what they want, and we will need to become deep listeners and provide the choices and opportunities they are looking for,” says Ms. Martin-Lindsay.