Assisted living hotels cater to seniors

Sitting on an elegant sofa in the stately common room of One Eleven Avenue Road, Betty Winter* extols the virtues of her new retirement residence.

It soon becomes clear she’s hopelessly in love with the place. And it’s not hard to understand why.

Combining style, service and care par excellence, One Eleven Avenue Road takes the concept of retirement living to a whole new luxurious level. Located in Toronto’s chic Yorkville neighbourhood, residents enjoy a stylish décor and friendly staff complemented by the following amenities:

  • Daily maid service
  • 24-hour concierge
  • Onsite nurse
  • Fitness facilities
  • Fine dining
  • Internet room
  • Pub—plus a host of other services aimed at smoothing out life’s less pleasant tasks.

Feels like hotel
“It’s wonderful,” says Betty, who moved in with her husband, Paul, in September 2001. “We explored other options but have found our home here.”

The Winters’ new home is actually an assisted living retirement residence that looks, acts and feels like a five-star hotel. Run by Origin Communities, it’s one of many that have sprung up acss the country, filling an important niche in the retirement living landscape.

“There are many seniors who aren’t able to live on their own anymore,” explains Nancy Gnaedinger, an independent consultant in gerontology from B.C., who has conducted numerous studies on seniors’ housing.

“The everyday tasks of maintaining their own house—taking out the garbage, cutting the lawn, housework—may have become too onerous. But they’re not yet ready for a nursing home because they don’t need full-scale health care.”

Maintenance-free living
Enter the assisted living alternative. Before this, seniors who could no longer function on their own had few options but to move in with family members or into full-scale nursing homes.

This new model, with its maintenance-free living approach, allows people to remain independent for a lot longer.

That’s why several companies building retirement communities—Origin, Amica and Sunrise—were quick to incorporate the assisted living concept into their latest developments.

The new homes give residents independence and privacy while providing limited nursing care and assisted living services they may require at this stage in their lives. (Assisted living services mean different things for different needs. It could include anything from grooming, bathing and dressing to administering medication and maintaining confidential health records.)

Residents are often charged a fee for certain services.

Next page: Residents retain independence

Residents retain independence
The actual delivery all of these services is what sets this concept apart. It’s all done in a pleasing environment resembling a hotel more than a nursing home. And, like hotels, residents have flexibility in their schedules not afforded those living in nursing homes.

This means they can retain their independent lifestyle while knowing that help, if needed, is nearby.

The entire package won Betty Winter over immediately.

“The minute I walked in, I thought it was lovely—quiet, spacious and beautifully decorated. We’re close by friends and family. Plus, there’s plenty of parking,” says the long-time Toronto resident, who appreciates the value of an extra parking spot.

“But the main reason I moved in was because of my husband’s health.”

Husband Paul uses a walker and requires oxygen. Together, they can change the tanks, but Betty always worried: “If I got sick, we’d be sunk.”

Nurse works 24/7
With the support services offered by One Eleven, Betty can now go out and play duplicate bridge with her friends, visit the museums close by or browse the Yorkville boutiques, knowing that if her husband needs help, he can press his panic button and staff will be alerted.

Plus, in emergencies, there’s a nurse on duty 24/7 and a family doctor on site once a week.

Peace of mind, comfort of surroundings and a respectful, attentive staff are what the Winters pay for at One Eleven. They rent a three-room apartment with one and a half bathrooms and small kitchenette.

It’s comparable to a hotel suite, but with furniture and décor provided by the resident. Various sizes and styles of rooms are available, from bachelor to penthouse suite.

Chef prepares meals
The Winters, like other residents, don’t measure their lifestyle just by the size of their apartment. They take their meals at Club 111, the building’s fine dining restaurant which offers excellent food, prepared by a top chef, and with deluxe service by uniformed wait staff.

On the second floor, Betty can take part in an art class or e-mail messages to her grandchildren from the computer room.

There’s a big-screen TV room if she wants to take in a movie. On the ground floor, she can entertain her friends for tea in the beautifully furnished common room or relax in the nearby library or billiards room or out on the patio.

“I use the common room a lot,” says Betty, who treats it like an enormous living room. “It’s where I’ve gotten to know a lot of people.”

Next page: Two living styles

Two living styles
Encouraging residents to immerse themselves in the retirement home community should be the focus of the new retirement living models, says Elisa Wilson, manager of marketing and advertising for Amica Mature Lifestyles. The company runs several hotel-style retirement homes across Canada. 

One of Amica’s latest developments, the $18-million Swan Lake in Markham, Ont., is designed to attract seniors with an array of health needs. Swan Lake offers two levels of living:

  • Rental units for healthy active seniors who don’t require any assisted living services but may need help down the road
  • A second tier where they can move into the assisted living units offering support services (laundry, grooming, bathing assistance, etc.) in a hotel-style environment.

Both units share a ground-floor amenity area with lounges, home theatre, games room, corner store, doctor’s office, spa, large dining room with meals served on Royal Doulton china, British pub and a “Taster’s Choice” kitchen where residents can improve their culinary skills.

No sitting in rooms
“Amica believes strongly in the connection between physical and mental well-being,” says Wilson.

The company actively ties it all together with their “Principles of Wellness and Vitality,” a program that encourages residents to make friendships, undertake new experiences and adopt a healthy lifestyle by making friendships within the community.

The end result is positive: “Very few of our residents sit in their rooms all day,” explains Wilson.

Wilson says that both residents and Amica benefit from this formula: “If a senior in our community is happy on many different levels, they’ll remain healthier and will be with us for a longer time.”

Amica’s “aging-in-place” model means residents can utilize or upgrade the level of assistance they require should their health deteriorate. Plus, it eliminates the aggravating and highly stressful move to another facility.

Expensive living choice
As appealing as hotel-style assisted living may seem, many Canadians will find it an expensive option. Unit prices vary across the country, but it’s definitely out of reach for those on a tight budget.

Plus, these homes exist only in larger cities. Smaller centres just don’t have a deep enough pool of seniors to make them economically viable.

But we shouldn’t condemn them because they cater to upper-income Canadians, says senior housing expert Gnaedinger. She congratulates private companies on responding to an actual need that has not been covered by public non-profit housing interests.

By keeping seniors independent and out of public nursing homes, they’re taking some of the pressure off a burdened industry.

“Without them, many seniors would have moved into long-term health care centres funded by tax dollars—and that’s our money.”

Raises the bar
Plus, Gnaedinger applauds the private developers for breathing new life into the institutional nursing home design that’s been around since the 1960s.

“Just go around to and look at some of the older extended care facilities,” she says. “What—and who—were they thinking of when they designed these places?”

These hotel-homes have raised the bar on retirement living. Now it’s time for non-profit developers to design a scaled-down model that’s affordable for all Canadians.
* Names have been changed.