A Guide to Senior Housing in Canada
Canadian seniors and their families have a long list of public and private services to choose from when they need care, from luxurious private-pay independent living communities that make retirement feel like a vacation to life-saving subsidized long-term nursing home care for seniors whose health requires constant professional management. While the ideal for many families is to age at home while cared for by loved ones, it’s not always possible or safe to do so. Chronic health conditions, dementia, and mobility impairments may require trained carers in the home or a move to a caregiving facility. And caregivers—especially those who are seniors themselves—need some form of respite care from time to time to avoid burnout and stress-related illness.
Finding the services you need may seem daunting, so understanding what’s available is the first step. The most important thing to know is that while some senior services are wholly or partially covered by the government, many private pay options are also available.
Private pay options for senior housing and care
(Also referred to as community nursing, home support services, in-home health care, supported services)
Private home care is a growing trend in Canada among families whose loved ones are on waiting lists for long-term care placement or who don’t qualify for fully subsidized home health assistance. With roughly 1 in 4 Canadian adults spending at least part of each year caring for a loved one (often while still maintaining a career outside the home), private home services can be a boon to tired family caregivers as well.
Rates for home care can range from as little as $12 per hour for a personal support aide who handles household tasks to $27 or more for a nurse. Seniors and families should thoroughly vet the private home providers they’re considering by checking online customer reviews, asking to see proof of the company’s bond and insurance, and asking for references from current and former client families.
Independent Living Communities
(Also called 55+ communities, active adult communities, adult lifestyle communities, life-lease communities, retirement communities, retirement homes, senior apartments, senior housing)
Seniors with no major health issues who prefer to stay busy and let someone else handle the domestic details may prefer to move into an independent living community. These facilities range from city apartment complexes to elegant campuses with ponds, walking trails, and gardens, and are found in virtually every city across the country. The advantages of independent living include freedom from home maintenance and lawn chores as well as group transportation, housekeeping services, healthy prepared meals, and a community of like-minded peers for social time.
One other advantage provided by some independent living retirement communities is “continuity of care.” In these facilities, residents can start out in an independent living setting and move into assisted living or memory care later if that’s necessary.
Costs for independent living communities vary by city, neighbourhood, and amenities provided. For example, independent living in Toronto ranges in monthly cost from $1950 to more than $3,000, while in Vancouver rates range from $1,700 to $3,600 and up.
Assisted Living Facilities
(Also known as congregate care, independent supportive living, retirement care, supportive housing)
Assisted living blends the independence of having one’s own space with a little help to handle tasks of daily living such as grooming, bathing, and mobility challenges. Many of the same perks found in independent living communities can be found here—transportation to shops and special events, meals, and housekeeping—along with personal care assistance. As with independent living communities, assisted living facilities may have on-site services such as a spa, hair and nail salon, general store, and massage therapist available for additional fees.
Residential Care Homes
(Also referred to as Abbeyfield-style assisted living, adult family homes, adult foster care homes, family care homes, care homes, group homes, personal care homes)
Residential care homes are another form of assisted living, where supportive care is provided in a house that’s been converted to meet the needs of a dozen or fewer residents. Caregivers live on site and provide a family-style living arrangement that some seniors prefer to the apartment-style setup of larger assisted living communities. Pricing varies based on location and services; the broad range is $1,500 to $4,500 per month.
Memory Care Communities
(Also called Alzheimer’s care communities, Alzheimer’s special care units, dementia care)
Memory care is specially designed to meet the needs of seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Because these people are at particular risk for wandering, ignoring self-care, and becoming agitated due to confusion, trained memory care aides and nurses work to create a relaxing and secure environment for residents that reduces their anxiety and ensures that they’re kept track of at all times. Therapy programs may include brain games to slow cognitive decline, music therapy to spark memories, and physical therapy and exercise to improve balance and coordination. Due to the specialized care and security requirements, expect to pay between $3,000 and $5,500 per month for dementia care.
Government benefits for senior care and housing
Canada’s national and provincial governments offer a number of services for seniors who need assistance to age in their own homes or who need long-term care (LTC) housing that supports their changing health and daily care needs. In addition to universal senior services, veterans and Aboriginal Canadians may be eligible for other support programs. The options open to seniors span a range of assistance, from day care programs and home assistance to long-term care.
(Also known as adult day services, adult day care)
These programs provide supervision, social time, and meals during the workday while caregivers are at work or taking a rest. For example, Alberta Health Services’ Adult Day Support Program provides up to 6 hours of wellness activities for seniors age 65 and up who are current Home Care clients and have a referral from their Home Care coordinator. Clients are responsible for transportation to and from the day services center and may be responsible for the cost of meals and snacks served on site.
Program participants can receive health monitoring such as blood pressure readings, medication reminders, light exercise, arts and crafts, and visiting with friends. Programs at some locations are designed for seniors with dementia, speakers of particular languages, and other criteria based on community needs.
(Also referred to as community nursing, home support services, in-home health care, supported services)
Government subsidized home care services help qualified seniors remain in their homes safely. In-home services may include physical, occupational, and speech therapy, along with medication management, nutritionist services, and social worker aid. Personal care, such as help with grooming and dressing, household chores, and in-home hospice services may also be provided.
Receiving home care benefits starts with contacting the local community care access centre or similar agency. A case worker will determine eligibility for home care and, for eligible seniors, arrange a home visit to determine exactly what kinds of care are needed. Seniors who are not eligible for government funded home care can get referrals for private pay providers; seniors who are eligible will receive help from providers chosen by the community care agency.
(Also called caregiver respite, caregiver relief, short-term residential care)
In general, there are 2 types of respite care that may be provided as a government benefit. The first is in-home respite care provided by a direct service worker to give the primary caregiver short breaks. The second is alternate-setting respite care, which involves staying in a care facility for a few days or weeks while the primary caregiver is on an extended break. Alternate-setting respite care incurs extra fees but may be the best option for seniors whose medical needs require ongoing supervision.
Supportive housing is a term for assisted living that is subsidized by provincial health care agencies. Referrals for supportive housing are made by a client’s home care nurse when the client is no longer able to live at home safely.
In Alberta, for example, home care nurses refer medically stable clients with chronic illness and constant care needs (but who don’t require feeding, transfers, and incontinence care) for Supportive Living Level 3 (SL3). Clients who qualify are moved to a private room in a community with round-the-clock care aides on site. Clients who have complex case management needs or who can no longer manage their own feeding, toileting, and mobility, may qualify for a Supportive Living Level 4 (SL4) placement in a community with onsite health care aides, licensed practical nurses, and on-call registered nurses. Alberta Health Services covers the cost of health and personal care services in SL3 and SL4, while clients are responsible for accommodation costs. Government assistance may be available to help defray those expenses as well.
Long-Term Care Homes
(Also referred to as nursing homes, community care facilities)
Subsidized nursing home care is available through government LTC programs in each province. These programs are for seniors who can no longer safely live on their own and who require round-the-clock nursing care. Qualified seniors are encouraged to visit prospective care homes and decide which they prefer, but placements also take into account the clients’ risk level and urgency of need. That means some seniors may be placed in the first available facility that meets their needs rather than their first choice facility. Seniors in this situation can request a transfer to the facility they prefer, which will usually involve some time spent on a waiting list.
The cost of LTC is usually shared between the client and the health ministry, with formulas in place to determine the amount each client contributes. For example, in British Columbia, clients with an after-tax yearly income of less than $19,500 contribute according to a formula that allows them about $325 per month in income for personal expenses after paying for LTC. Clients with yearly after-tax incomes greater than $19,500 are expected to contribute 80% to the host of their care.
Subsidized Care Services by Province
Each province has an agency that helps seniors and their families find the subsidized care they need. In Ontario, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s network of Community Care Access Centres coordinates information among seniors, physicians, and care providers to help locate in-home care and apply for LTC placement. Seniors in other provinces can access their benefits through these agencies:
- Alberta Health Services
- British Columbia Ministry of Health Services
- Manitoba Health
- New Brunswick Home Health Care
- Newfoundland and Labrador Health and Community Services
- Nova Scotia Department of Health
- Prince Edward Island Department of Health
- Quebec Health Insurance Plan
- Saskatchewan Health Care System
- Northwest Territories Department of Health and Social Services
- Nunavut Health and Social Service
- Yukon Health and Social Services
General information about senior benefits is available through the Government of Canada. Other prospective resources for information and care recommendations include family physicians, private eldercare concierge services that will calculate benefits and narrow down options for a fee, and the Canadian Association of Retired Persons non-profit advocacy group. Local seniors groups, social club members, and church or congregation members may be able to share their experiences and personal reviews of particular providers. And online client reviews can offer up to date “insider” insight on providers under consideration.
All of this information may feel like a lot to sort through, but knowing the types of available care, the price ranges, and the terms used to describe different services should make it easier to find reliable care to keep yourself or someone you love safe, cared for, and in good company—and those are benefits that are well worth pursuing.
If you’d like help determining which care option is best for you or your loved one, please call us at (866) 592-8119. We have Senior Care Advisors located across Canada who can help you find care in your area based on your needs and budget. And you can always search for providers and read reviews on SeniorAdvisor.com.