Whether you’re looking for an alternative supportive living arrangement for yourself or for a family member, the sheer number of options available today can make finding the right one difficult. “Known as congregant living facilities, taking the time to research what’s available in your community is well worth the effort,” says Dr. Michael Gordon, Medical Program Director for Palliative Care at Toronto’s Baycrest Geriatric Health Care System and co-author of Parenting Your Parents.
Here are his top 5 tips to help you start your search for a good fit:
- Get your terminology straight. "The terminology used for congregant living facilities is inconsistent across Canada," says Dr. Gordon. "Each province will have their own set of terms — such as long-term care facility, home for the aged, retirement home or assisted-care facility — and regulations." To know about the options available in your community, contact your provincial ministry of health.
- Enlist your ministry’s help. Your ministry of health will likely have a department that is dedicated to helping citizens find government-regulated long-term care facilities such as nursing homes and homes for the aged. "Generally, government-subsidized or funded facilities operate as either for-profit or not-for-profit and follow strict government regulations," explains Dr. Gordon. "Your provincial government will be able to assist you in finding options in your area — or ones that bring you closer to family — that suit your needs, lifestyle and so on." Depending on where you live, you may be faced with a lot of options to understand, so enlisting the help of a dedicated consultant or knowledgeable health or social services professional is a good idea.
- See if a private facility is an option. Privately owned non-regulated facilities — sometimes called retirement or assisted-living communities — offer a range of services (including medical) but you pay for the services when you want or need them. "These can be quite expensive," says Dr. Gordon, "especially the high-end luxury ones. Also, because these places are generally not regulated by the government, you must be very careful about what services they offer and the quality of these services." Again, you’ll want to completely understand the fee structure, contract and the financial implications should money become limited.
- Look beyond services. Many government-regulated and private facilities cater to specific ethnic, cultural or religious groups — and that can make a big difference when looking for the right one. "Some places have staff and residents that speak a language other than English or French, offer ethnic cuisine and observe holidays from your country of origin," explains Dr. Gordon. "Others attract people of a particular religious affiliation and have religious services on site; and others still cater to a certain lifestyle, such as to those who love pets or enjoy being outdoors." Places that cater to a specific group is a good way for older people to meet new likeminded friends, have options for day trips or crafts that they enjoy and to feel like they’re part of a community.
- Ask the right questions. "It’s very important to visit a few facilities and ‘take a test drive’," advises Dr. Gordon. "Take a formal tour but also visit on your own." While you’re there, get a feel for the atmosphere and décor, and see how people spend their time. You’ll also want to ask questions to staff, residents, visitors and family members of those living in the facility. While there are many questions to ask, Dr. Gordon suggests you start with the following:
- What medical and non-medical services are offered?
- What psycho-social and recreational services are available on-site?
- What happens if in the future I need extended services or services that are not offered here?
- Can modifications be made to my room if needed for personal medical reasons?
- What happens if after a period of time I don’t like it here?
- What are the short-term and long-term financial implications of agreeing to live in the facility?
- Can my entire family visit, or just adults?
- Are the days very structured or are residents free to eat or sleep when they like?