Ask Our Experts: How do I know which retirement living support option is right for my needs?

Charlotte Miller
Director Resident Care & Service Ontario
At Chartwell since 2000

Q: I’ve been researching retirement residence options, and I don’t understand what the difference is between some of the levels offered. How do I know which level will meet my needs?

I can certainly understand how industry acronyms like “IL” or “AL,” and jargon like “independent supportive living” or “long term care,” can leave many feeling confused during their search for the perfect seniors’ home. Let me break down some of the common levels offered by retirement residences to help you understand what each entails:

Independent Living (IL) – This environment is a great fit for active and independent individuals who would benefit from convenient retirement living services like 24-hour security, housekeeping and laundry, lifestyle activities and outings, and even the option of dining packages, but do not require any support or assistance.

Independent Supportive Living (ISL) – Offering all the services associated with independent living, and usually including meals, this level is also ideal for active individuals, but who may also require some supportive services, such as medication monitoring or administration.

Assisted Living (AL) –Supportive services associated with this level are usually carried out in a designated area of the residence, which is often equipped with its own dining room, activity lounge, and specially-designed lifestyle programming. AL is great for individuals who need additional assistance with activities of daily living, and is intended to provide ongoing support to residents in order to help them maintain their desired level of independence in privacy and comfort.

You’ll find that some homes also offer dedicated memory care floors or memory living “neighbourhoods,” which are specially-designed and staffed with the needs of individuals living with dementia in mind. For those seniors who are managing complex medical conditions and need 24-hour nursing care, a long term care (LTC) residence may also be a better fit than a retirement residence.

If after reading the above you’re still unsure of which level is right for you, don’t worry; the retirement residence you’re interested in can help you determine the right fit by conducting a personal assessment. At Chartwell, we dub this our “Tea & Chat,” where our Health & Wellness Managers sit down with residents and their family members to exchange information and determine a plan of care that is unique and individual to their needs. It’s also an opportunity to ensure the home can safely provide for the person’s needs in that living environment.

Q: I’m a private person, and I don’t want other people to know about my personal health information. Who would deliver my support services in the retirement residence, and where?

Charlotte: That’s a great question. After the residence of your choice has determined that they can safely meet your needs, and a care plan unique to you has been established, so begins a trusted partnership between you and the home’s health and wellness staff. Firstly, any personal support services you require are delivered in the privacy of your suite, and permission to enter your suite is always sought by staff, unless another arrangement has been previously agreed upon. Secondly, services are provided by the home’s qualified, in-house support team and registered staff. What’s great about this is you come to know and trust the familiar faces who support you on a daily basis. Lastly, any Personal Health Information (PHI) you share with residence staff is private, available only on a need-to-know basis, and exclusively accessible to those who are included in your circle of care.

Q: If I experience changes in my health and require more support, can the residence accommodate that, or do I have to move?

Charlotte: Before you decide on the retirement residence that’s right for you, it’s important to have an understanding of whether it offers something we call a continuum of care—or multiple levels of support under one roof. Many senior homes offer a continuum of care environment, and may, for example, have a selection of independent supportive living suites, an assisted living floor and a memory care neighbourhood, all of which allow for the home to accommodate your changing needs as you age. If the peace of mind associated with the ability to age in place is important to you, I recommend choosing a retirement residence that offers the flexibility to add or remove services as your needs change.

Having said all that, retirement homes recognize that your health needs may change as you age, and that you may require more support over time, which is why they try to ensure they are meeting your requirements by partnering with you to review your support needs every six months, or as needed. Rest assured, all available care and support options would be reviewed and considered prior to recommending you make the decision to move to a higher care home, such as a long term care residence.

For more information about the support and living options offered by Chartwell retirement residences, click here.

Download Chartwell’s brochure to learn more about their Care & Wellness Program.

About Charlotte Miller

Charlotte has been in the health care and senior living industry for 26 years. She previously worked as a Registered Nurse in a long term care setting and as a General Manager of a retirement residence before becoming Chartwell’s Director of Resident Care & Service (Ontario), which entails providing Health & Wellness Managers with the education, training and tools they need to succeed in creating new programs and services to aid residents and their families.