Independent Living vs. Assisted Living

By Kevin McKay

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A noticeable shift has taken place in the seniors housing market over the past decade. The choice is no longer between staying in your own house or moving into a full-time care facility.

Thanks to the Independent Living BC program, started in 2002, the province offers two options to seniors who may require some form of assistance, but do not necessarily want or require full-time care. With people living longer, healthier lives, having a wide range of housing and care options to help bridge the gap makes good sense.

The first of these options is Independent Living. In order to be a candidate for independent living, seniors must be able to live alone without needing medical care on an ongoing basis. It is often assumed, however, that an independent senior should be able to function without assistance in all their daily routines, from meal preparation to taking their own medication to doing their own laundry.

The reality is that many seniors need some type of support on a day-to-day basis. There are many places that provide independent living opportunities, such as low-income housing, over-55 apartments, and retirement communities.

Harmony Court Estate Retirement Community in Burnaby is one such community. Retirement Living Coordinator Adrienne Spear says, “We have a very social community here. The ideal candidate is someone who is looking for some support as well as social interaction and recreational activities. No longer do they need to be isolated. We have a wide variety of activities that occur within our community and there is something for everyone.”

Many factors need to be considered when weighing the pros and cons of moving into an independent living environment and cost is one of the big ones.

“Typically, when people visit our community they want to understand what they are getting for their money,” says Spear. “Many retirement communities have all-inclusive packages, which include features such as meals, recreation activities, housekeeping, emergency response, utilities and more. Prospective residents will then compare the community package with their current lifestyle expenses in order to make a decision.”

Some of the other factors that should be considered include emotional hurdles such as being able to take care of your current home, transportation, socialization and health. Is there something holding you to your current home that you are not ready to let go of? Is your home and yard becoming unmanageable? How do you get where you need to go? Can you still visit your family and friends? Is your health or that of your spouse deteriorating? These are all questions that need to be asked before making any decisions.

Once the decision has been made to give independent living a try, there are more areas that need to be looked at in selecting a new place to call home, in addition to the expense. You will want to consider who your new neighbours will be and how you will get along with them.

The size of the community can be an important factor with some people preferring small, intimate communities, and others wanting a large community to share activities with. Is the community located close to services, shops, doctors and family? With health on the decline now or in the future many people want to know how accessible a place is and whether it can be adapted, if declining health becomes a reality.

Thinking about factors to consider, Spear says, “For me, it’s about the feeling people get about a community when they first walk in. Is it warm and welcoming? Does it feel like home? Is the location close to your family and friends, to your doctor and other important services? Can I bring my favourite pet with me? What if I have a walker, a cane, or a scooter? If I need more help in the future what supports exist? These are just examples of some factors that may be important to someone and are things our community can help with. We want [residents] to think of us as their family.”

The other option to look at is Assisted Living. Just like the name implies assisted living is a level of care up from independent living while still allowing people some level of independence. In assisted living, you can expect help with activities such as meals, bathing, laundry, dressing and even waking up and being put to bed. The staff will even give medication and personal care or assist with transportation to health appointments.

It can be difficult to determine the right time to make the move to assisted living, but it can be extremely beneficial if the individual is prepared. According to Bonnie Harris, Director of Sales for Sunrise Senior Living in Victoria, a little preparation can make all the difference.

“In a perfect world, the right time to make the move is after [one has] received a diagnosis that means they will need more assistance,” says Harris. “We understand people want to stay in their own home. It is fortunate when people are able do that. While they have the ability to make the choice is when they should start planning, instead of after a crisis. They may be placed where they don’t want to be and their family, physician or health authority is left to make the decision. There comes a point in their lives where people need more care and need to have staff always available, and that is when they come here.”

Some assisted living facilities provide apartment-style living with small kitchens, while others provide rooms only. Sometimes, there are options to reduce costs by sharing accommodation with someone else. Most facilities have spaces for recreation and social activities and a larger group dining area.

At Sunrise in Victoria, they have even gone beyond this.

“We are Licensed Residential Care, the next step beyond assisted living,” says Harris. “What sets us apart is that we specialize in memory care, which has been developed for over 30 years and is unique to Sunrise communities. We have secure neighbourhoods for seniors with dementia. Sometimes residents will transition to the Reminiscence Neighbourhood from the other floors.”

This transition is one example of allowing seniors to attempt to age in place. One new model of senior housing is the Continuing Care Retirement Community. In these communities, you will find packages that allow for independent living, assisted living and more critical care in one place.
When an individual sees a decline in their health, they can transfer to another facility located in the same community.

“People who come here want to know if they will be able to age in place and if we have end-of-life care, which we can offer in most circumstances,” says Harris. “If they need more assistance, they keep the same care manager, which contributes to the overall well-being of the individual. This is their home. We assist with their care needs and provide a safe family environment.”

The key thing to remember is the more informed you are the better the chances you will wind up in a home that will meet your needs both now and in the future.



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Showing 1 to 1 of 1 comments.

We have an uncle who is turning into a hermit and we think it would be better for him to live in a senior community so he can have somewhat of a social life back. We don't know if he really would qualify for senior living though. That is good to know that if he can live alone without medical care on an ongoing basis and can do daily routines then he can be a candidate for independent living. That is great to hear! We will have to talk to him about it. Thank you for the information!

Posted by Deb Pearl | October 13, 2017 Report Violation

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