Serving Greater Vancouver & the Fraser Valley

Changing care for seniors

by Sharon Simpson


As I spend time chatting with my middle-aged friends, I realize that almost everyone in my circle is managing transitions for their aging parents. Inevitably, the conversations turn to what we want for our own lives when we come to that stage. Most often, I hear that we don’t want to live in a care home when we get old. Makes sense. No one sets out to be frail, have a stroke or develop dementia. A care home is on no one’s bucket list, ever. And yet, when the time comes for additional support in daily living, seniors are ever so grateful for a caring and capable community to surround them in their time of need. What will the senior years look like for those of us who are currently in our 50’s and 60’s? What will we demand when it comes time for our senior years? What changes are already taking place as the Boomers come into the final third of their lives?

For a group of young retired women in France, the idea was to create a community of co-dependence in order to keep their independence. In 2013, the Baba Yaga’s House opened in Paris. A group of like-minded feminists rallied the government and pooled their resources to build a self-managed social housing project that allows 21 women and four students to live in self-contained apartments within walking distance to all the amenities required for daily living. Residents are required to volunteer to contribute to the community and the ground floor has common space reserved for activities, classes and a university for senior citizens.

This style of communal living for seniors came to Canada in the form of Radical Resthomes. This is the Canadian philosophy of seniors co-housing. With a balance of public and private spaces, these co-housing projects differ from 55+ communities in the expectation of looking after each other as you age in place. The members of the community are expected to create the environment of care and community that allows its members to live out the remainder of their lives in this home. Another model is the Village to Village Network. This is the networking of seniors in a neighbourhood to work together to remain at home. With its beginnings in the Boston neighbourhood of Beacon Hill in 2002, this model has inspired more than 190 villages around the world. It is a response to create a livable, age friendly community where seniors gain discounted services through group purchasing, offer classes in healthy living and provide stimulating programs to support connectedness and friendships.

Another model of senior living has emerged in the USA called Intergenerational Homes. This model seeks to bring generations together in order to share their benefits with each other. In Cleveland, the Judson Manor Seniors Home has four in-residence student musicians who pay for their stately, luxury apartments by practicing and performing their music for the seniors. They share meals together and deep bonds of friendship are formed.

In Seattle, Providence Mount St. Vincent is a home for more than 400 older adults. An award-winning Intergenerational Learning Center is located in the heart of the community. Five days a week, children in the “daycare” and residents come together for planned activities such as music, dancing, art, lunch, storytelling, visiting, and loving unconditionally.

In the UK, Dr. David Sheard is calling on radical changes to how we care for those who live with dementia. Rather than housing elders in institutions, he is calling for homes of 12 people in like-stages of dementia. Removing the institutional aspects of care, the home is full of the “stuff” of living and where the staff feel and experience the lived emotional experience of people who live with dementia. Started in 1995, there are now more than 56 Butterfly Homes that have adopted this model. The first three Butterfly Projects launched in Alberta in 2015.

Dr. Bill Thomas founded the Eden Alternative in 2001 with the mission to alleviate the “three plagues” of boredom, helplessness and loneliness from care homes. He introduced pets, including 100 birds in cages to the original Eden Alternative care home. With a goal to expand this philosophy to new buildings and renovated residential care homes, he founded the Greenhouse Project. With a focus on intimate home-like environments, more than 100 Greenhouse Homes now exist across the US.

Perhaps the most renowned of all models for dementia care is Hogeway Dementia Village in the Netherlands. When a group of caregivers reflected on the question, “What kind of home would I like to live in if I was living with dementia?”, they formed the vision for the self-contained village for 152 men and women living with severe dementia. The village has 23 residential homes each shared by 6-8 residents. Care is provided by 240 round the clock “villagers” who are clinicians dressed in street clothes. Residents are free to enjoy the village, including grocery shopping, chopping wood, riding bike, shoveling snow and cooking together.

Across our nation, governments are recognizing that person-centred care and holistic quality of life is key to successful senior care. This lines up with the Intergenerational Model of Care and the Butterfly Home philosophy.

Our governments are intent on improving care and support for seniors in their own homes. This is in line with the desire of many seniors to live and die in their own homes. It fits with the Village Network and Baba Yagas models of care.

The Health Ministries recognize the need to de-institutionalize care homes with commitments to redeveloping homes that currently have long hallways, central nursing stations, overhead paging systems and shared rooms. Many older care homes eagerly anticipate the opportunity to redevelop their buildings and align care to smaller clusters of seniors like the Butterfly Homes and Greenhouse Projects emphasize.

Most middle-aged Canadians are only beginning to discover that they can participate in forming and shaping the next generation of senior living and care homes – the very ones that they may reside in if their needs increase.

Elderly and philanthropic Canadians are only beginning to imagine the possibilities that an estate gift can provide to re-invent senior care in Canada. One such gift of land and capital was given by Marilyn (nee Czorny) and Chick Stewart to develop the outstanding six-cottage Czorny Alzheimer Centre in Cloverdale, BC.

If you are thinking about the way you would like to live when you are a senior, you are poised to be a tremendous influence on the decisions and innovations that are taking place in senior care at this juncture of history. This is a crucial time – when the voice of the Boomers will boom loud enough to demand leading edge care for themselves.

Sharon Simpson is the Director, Communications and Stakeholder Engagement at Menno Place, a senior’s campus-of-care located in Abbotsford, BC –

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