Throughout life, our well-being and quality of life are influenced by the community and neighbourhood in which we live, the type of living arrangement, the quality and type of housing, and the availability of transportation and community services.
A senior-friendly environment can maintain, support and stimulate older people and contribute to a high quality of life.
Historically, and even today, we think of only three housing alternatives in later life — namely, aging in place in one’s family home, moving in with a child or moving into an institution. However, new forms of housing are becoming available, more in the private sector, to help elderly individuals live safely, independently, and comfortably.
Housing possibilities in later life range from fully independent housing to supportive housing to fully dependent housing.
Independent housing options include privately owned or rented homes, apartments, condominiums, retirement communities, subsidized low-rent housing and single rooms in hotels meant for older adults living alone. Independent housing, most suitable for healthy, independent, older adults, is associated with a high quality of life.
For older people with health and mobility issues, a range of supportive housing options are available. The first level of supportive housing involves home renovations to improve safety and accessibility, home-care support for help with house-hold chores, bathing and personal care, and meals-on-wheels program.
The second level is the accessory apartment either in the home of a child or attached to it, or “granny flat,” constructed in the property of an adult child or a relative.
This type of housing not only provides some measure of security, supervision, and privacy, but also fosters grandchild-grandparent relationship.
The third level of supportive housing is congregate housing. This includes retirement homes, which offer a self-contained one or two-bedroom unit in a building with provision of meals, housekeeping and recreational services.
Residents can furnish their rooms with their possessions, and there are common areas such as dining hall, library, chapel, fitness rooms and social activity rooms. Residents can voice their opinions about their home, through a resident council. This type of housing promotes autonomy, freedom of choice, dignity, privacy, individuality, and independence in a home-like environment.
They also have an assisted-living floor, for those who require 24-hour supervision. Additional services are provided for a fee.
Many of these facilities are now operated by private sector and can be quite expensive, ranging from $2500 to more than $4000 per month. The existing few government-subsidized facilities have long waiting lists, and rigorous screening for admission, that can delay a much-needed move into these units.
A less expensive supportive housing is the ‘Abbeyfield Homes’, originally from England, consisting of a large renovated house in a residential neighbourhood where seven to 10 independent older adults live together.
Another option is a campus model of integrated living and graduated assistance, adopted mostly by the private sector and designed to provide a continuum of supervision, care and assistance.
Yet another option is the ‘apartment for life’ developed in Netherlands, consisting of one-bedroom apartments in a large building, where different services and programs are delivered to the resident in his or her own apartment as needed. This eliminates the need for moving the older person to an assisted-living wing or to a nursing home.
According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, by 2031, there will be approximately 4 million people over 75, and about 1 million over 85 who will need supportive housing.
To meet these housing demands, homecare facilities must be expanded and congregate housing must be available for low and high-income citizens, ideally located in neighbourhoods close to where the individuals lived for most of their adult life, with consumer protection mechanisms regarding contracts, and billings for add-on services. We also need to utilize the existing resources creatively and explore the supportive housing options in other parts of the world, to meet our housing challenges.
Padmaja Genesh, who holds a bachelor degree in medicine and surgery as well as a bachelor degree in gerontology has spent several years teaching and working with health care agencies. She has been a resident of Red Deer for the past six years, and has also been a board member of Red Deer Golden Circle. Her column appears every second Sunday. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.