“Retirement living” brings to mind different things to different people, but in terms of finding a place to live, the phrase has a specific meaning. Retirement living goes by many names: independent living, active adult living, and 55+ living. All of these terms describe communities that offer housing (usually private apartments, suites, or rooms) for seniors who are healthy enough to live without daily nursing care or personal care assistance.
What’s included in retirement living?
Amenities vary by retirement community but often include on-call staff assistance, an on-site nurse, meal preparation (often in a restaurant-style dining hall), transportation to shops and appointments, and housekeeping and laundry service. Some upscale 55+ living developments include on-site spas and fitness centers, heated swimming pools, pubs, art studios, shops, salons, and guest accommodations for visiting family and friends.
Assisted living communities and long-term care centers offer amenities like meals and housekeeping as well. But they also provide a higher level of individual daily care to their residents than do retirement communities. For example, assisted living residents may get help from staff members with bathing and dressing each day, while long term care residents may receive nurse or nursing assistant help with medication schedules, physical or occupational therapy, diabetes care, and specialized medical needs such as dementia care.
Many retirees who opt to move from their own home to an active adult community are eager to leave behind the responsibilities and expense of home maintenance, household chores, and driving in order to spend more time with friends and family and to pursue more leisure activities. Others choose to move because they want to meet more age peers with similar interests. Forward-thinking seniors often make a point of finding a retirement community that offers a continuum of care, to reduce the likelihood that they’ll have to move again if their health or mobility status changes over time.
Who pays for retirement living?
Unlike long-term care, which is subsidized by the government, most retirement residences are paid for by seniors and their families. The retirement homes that do offer subsidized rates for residents typically have long waiting lists due to strong demand; if you want to move sooner rather than later, private pay communities may offer more choices.
Resources to pay for 55+ living can come from income, savings, annuities and investments; proceeds from the sale of your current home; reverse mortgages; and withdrawals against the cash value of permanent (whole) life insurance policies. You may also receive support from adult children who want to ensure your wellbeing and comfort. Government old age and pension plan benefits can add to the available funds.
How much does retirement living cost?
The cost of independent living varies by location, by the level of service, and by the size of the room or suite. In 2015, the national average rate for private rooms and bachelor units was $2,107 per month, about $90 more than the previous year. The Canada Mortgage and Home Corporation (CMHC) found that more than 1/3 of the country’s retirement community spaces rent for $2,500 or more monthly, with about a quarter renting for $1,500 or less, mostly due to the low average rent for senior living in Quebec.
The CMHC 2015 survey data found the following provincial average rates for independent living (from highest to lowest):
- Ontario: $2,815
- Nova Scotia: $2,796
- Saskatchewan: $2,526
- Alberta: $2,515
- Manitoba: $2,165
- British Columbia: $2,035
- Quebec: $1,521
Data was unavailable or not collected for New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and the Northwest, Nunavut, and Yukon Territories.
Is there a waiting list for retirement living communities?
It depends on the community. For subsidized independent living, expect a waiting list—sometimes a fairly long one. For private-pay communities, the vacancy rates are low and trending lower across the country, but the exact figures vary widely by province and city. Nationwide, the 2015 retirement living vacancy rate was 8.9%, down 0.8% from 2014, according to the CMHC. In Toronto, the 2015 vacancy rate was 13%. At the low end of the range, Quebec City’s vacancy rate was just 4.9%.
The drop in vacancy rates in 2015 happened in spite of the addition of 2.4% more retirement living spaces. That’s because the senior population is growing fast—a trend that’s projected to continue through at least 2030 and most likely beyond. The takeaway from these figures is that it’s a good idea to start looking at retirement communities well before you actually need to move into one. That way if there are wait lists for your preferred communities, you can sign on while still living comfortably at home.
What are alternatives to traditional retirement living?
If a traditional private-pay independent living community is not within your budget—or if you’d prefer something different—there are other housing options to consider. The first and most cost effective is to “age in place” by hiring help that allows you to live longer in your current home. Supported and private-pay home care services can handle your laundry, housekeeping, transportation and meals—things that are typically provided in active adult communities as well. Another option if you own your home is to participate in one of HomeShare Canada’s programs, in which seniors let rooms to younger adults in exchange for help with household tasks and social time.
If you have family nearby and they have space on their home lot, they may be able to apply for and build a garden suite (also known as a granny flat), which is essentially a small guest home for you. And if you’re active and enjoy participating in the give and take of a larger community, non-profit co-op housing is worth considering. Canada is home to thousands of cooperative housing complexes, in which residents take a direct role in governing and maintaining their communities.
Questions to ask when choosing a retirement living community
If you’re thinking of moving, you’ll want to make sure you visit at least a few 55+ communities to see the facilities in person, ask questions of the staff, and imagine what it would be like to live there. It’s also important to know exactly what each community offers, so you can accurately compare your options and gauge how long you may be able to stay in a particular setting. Some of the questions you’ll need to ask are:
- What is the monthly rate? Is there a deposit, and if so, how much is it?
- How many meals are provided each day and each week? If you have special dietary requirements such as gluten-free, vegan, kosher or halal food—and especially if you have a food allergy—will the kitchen be able to meet your needs?
- Is transportation provided? If yes, where does it take residents and on what schedule?
- Are housekeeping and laundry services included in the monthly rate or are they purchased separately?
- Are the facilities wheelchair-accessible? This is a question you should ask even if you don’t use a wheelchair, because illness or injury could change that later on and might require you to relocate again if the community doesn’t offer access.
- Does the community offer a continuum of care? If so, what other living arrangements are available on-site—assisted living, dementia care, nursing care?
- What other amenities are included in the monthly rate? Is there on-call assistance, a nurse on site to handle health concerns, a fitness centre, or a swimming pool?
- What extras are available for an additional fee? Personal care help, medication management, and other assistance may be available a la carte.
- What on-site services are available? Is there an on-site beauty salon, pharmacy, pub, or café?
- And finally, is there a waiting list and if so, how long is the wait?
Once you have your answers and have narrowed your choices, it’s a good idea to talk with residents and their family members, check online reviews, and drop by each place on your short list a couple of times to get a stronger sense of each community’s daily life. Then it’s time to make your choice, make your move, and enjoy more time for friends, family, and hobbies in a setting that suits your needs.