Your Next Move

Graduated communities that enable you to stay in your home area as capabilities diminish have obvious advantages.

September 16, 2017 | | Over the Next Hill

I was recently invited to tea at Caledon’s Abbeyfield House, a seniors’ residence in Caledon East. I’m an alumna of the board of directors, and those who currently volunteer their time to run the not-for-profit project kindly keep in touch.

The Abbeyfield concept of housing for seniors started in England just after World War II. The idea was to house single, sometimes lonely, seniors in a family setting that provides basic services and companionship.

When I joined the board, the idea of an Abbeyfield in Caledon was just that, an idea. But a tenacious group of local citizens led by Jim Galloway, now president of Abbeyfield Canada, muscled the project from concept, through land acquisition and draft plans, then architectural drawings, financing and, finally, construction. For me, the project was a 10-year odyssey.

The doors of Caledon’s Abbeyfield House opened in 2010, and it is now home to 12 seniors ranging in age from mid-70s to 99. Common areas are shared, but each resident lives independently in a private bed-sitting room with an ensuite bathroom. The live-in house manager prepares lunches and dinners for the residents, who look after their own breakfast.

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  • The home offers independence, freedom and community, and residents tell me they are happy there. They have someone to hang out with during the day if they choose, and most residents join one another for a glass of wine before dinner. And if a resident needs a bit of assistance, another will step up – rather like what happens in a family.

    These days many of my friends are discussing next-step housing. Some of us are thinking about the time when driving becomes a problem. And then there are the “what ifs.” What if a spouse dies? We lose mobility? Our mental capacities falter dangerously? Our BFF is Netflix? Popcorn becomes a regular dinner? We have become mindful that our health span doesn’t always equal our life span.

    Will our next home be a condo and, if so, where? A widower friend recently relocated from a 2,100-square-foot home in Caledon to a 750-square-foot condo in the heart of Toronto. He immediately got rid of his car and now uses public transit or Uber. He can easily walk to nearby restaurants, pubs, jazz clubs, and the pharmacy. He says his new life suits him perfectly, and there is a new spring in his step.

    Or is the solution to move to a seniors’ residence, in hopes of integrating into an established group of like-minded people? The ads make this option sound wonderful. Graduated communities that enable you to stay in your home area as capabilities diminish have obvious advantages.

    How about sharing a house, Golden Girls style? The lifestyle adopted by the sitcom characters iconically played by Betty White, Bea Arthur et al. has tremendous appeal – if you can find others with whom you get along well enough to share expenses and a kitchen while maintaining some private space. Arrangements like this could be set up either as renovations to existing structures or new builds.

    But is this issue even on the radar of developers and politicians? Will municipal planning officials be able to get their heads around co-housing and co-operative housing models for seniors?

    With the percentage of seniors in our communities climbing quickly, and many not able to afford the often steep monthly rent charged by private retirement homes, alternative options must be found.

    At our stage of life, it’s not just about bricks and mortar. It’s about remaining relevant and useful, and being heard. It’s also about living as independently as possible within a community.

    The key, say experts, is to start planning and discussing options before a crisis hits, and well before the thought of the next move brings on the paralysis of indecision.

    Perhaps the next time you and a friend are planning a lunch date, you could include a tour of a couple of the local options. And if what you’re looking for isn’t there, plug into a network of people who are thinking the same way.

    Local realtor Dorothy Mazeau has lived communally most of her adult life and is enthusiastic about the financial and social support such arrangements can provide. She recently started Golden Girls Canada (find it on Facebook) and has begun pulling together the threads needed to create a network of people interested in sharing accommodation.

    Don’t allow yourself to be caught short. With a little forethought there are still new horizons to explore.

    About the Author More by Gail Grant

    Gail Grant is a freelance writer who lives in Palgrave.

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