The traditional model of a retirement residence is being transformed by companies like Element Lifestyle, the Cridge Centre for the Family and PARC Communities that all believe family and community values should be first and foremost when choosing a new home.
“I think it’s so important for seniors to still be a part of a community and not feel as though they have been removed from society somehow,” says Director Sarah Smith of the Cridge Centre in Victoria. “We love providing these opportunities and, more importantly, facilitating multiple opportunities with the same groups, so longer-term relationships can be formed.”
Element Lifestyle Retirement Inc. has taken that philosophy a step further. With innovative design and careful planning, companies like Element ensure the family dynamic remains intact and thriving – specifically at their first multi-generational residence, Opal, in Vancouver.
Candy Ho, Director and Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Relations for Element, has personal experience with the pain of separation that can occur when one spouse needs more advanced care, while the other does not qualify for a bed. Her in-laws were separated, with her mother-in-law driving three hours each day to visit her husband at the only care home that had an available bed. It was a stressful time for the whole family, already stretched thin with childcare and work commitments, and especially for the couple, who wanted to be together.
Now, as Ho’s own parents age, they’ve purchased a condominium unit with a longer term view that they will eventually be looking at moving from their condo into a Licensed Care suite at Opal. There, they have the option to purchase additional rooms meant for sleepovers with grandchildren, with full use of the facilities, including an open kitchen to cook meals together, and a sound-proofed dining room for boisterous family dinners. With an adjoining living room complete with board games and activities for the kids, the space is welcoming for all ages.
“The assumption is the noise of young children running around is overwhelming, but our philosophy is to create a real home and real community with all of the family there,” says Ho. “The noise issue is overcome with all of our engineered acoustic treatment.”
Noise control in specific areas is just one of the many innovative approaches at Opal. Other key components include larger suites, a play area, a games room and theatre, and flexible dining configurations. In the movement studio, child-centric classes are offered in the evenings and on non-school days, encouraging kids and grandparents to bond and play together.
Ho has countless stories and examples of unexpected ways this new model of integrated living benefits families, and it’s not just for the elderly, it can also be for their children. A key example is a 40-something woman who suffers from anxiety that affects her daily life and ability to cope. Her parents are in their late 70s, and are planning ahead for their daughter’s care, which includes a multi-bedroom suite at Opal.
One young widow, 58, purchased a suite for herself and her kids, who are in their 30s. Their family is so close-knit they get together several times a year. She bought additional bedrooms because she knows the kids will visit often, and as a result, it’s a place where everyone feels at home when they visit, and some choose to stay.
“Opal is the only place that is not only saying all ages are welcome to come and use the amenities, it’s actually allowing people to live together here. There is no 65+ age restriction. What we have at Opal are larger two bedroom units, and any family member who wants to be a support person is welcome,” says Ho.
There are also opportunities to incorporate childcare. The Cridge Centre in Victoria aims to incorporate all generations, and has both childcare and multi-family housing on the property.
“We are so fortunate in that we have child-care, and multi-family dwellings on the same site as our Assisted Living residents,” says Smith. “We recently celebrated Neighbour Day with tenants of our housing, their children, and our seniors with live music, treats, bubbles and more. It was a wonderful event that brought our various residents together. On a daily basis, our seniors can watch the children playing and interact with them, volunteer with them, or they can choose to not interact, if they wish,” says Smith.
At PARC’s newest residence in downtown Victoria, there will be a large licensed daycare, a wellness clinic and rental housing on site. What this allows is for some intergenerational programming with the daycare, especially with opportunities for seniors to be involved with the daycare.
“We see that engagement as a way for the seniors to stay young and engaged. If you want to see a place light up, bring a child in,” says Tony Baena, VP of Strategic Growth and Development for PARC Communities.
“It’s about taking away that sense of burdening society, or being sent away. It’s a concept where strong family values are encouraged,” says Ho. “If you facilitate it, everyone wants to support their own families.” She adds, “It’s all about building memories and good times. It’s not even just about caring for the seniors, but about caring for the entire family.”