Justifying the Cost of Retirement Housing

Sticker shock is a significant deterrent for families searching for the next level in care for their loved one. Monthly fees for senior care range from around $1,400 to $6,000, according to the Government of BC, and this number varies widely depending on the type of community and level of care required. While initially daunting, with a bit of a research and light accounting, it becomes clear that this number is simply a grand total of what would be the new living expenses of a simpler, easier lifestyle — budget permitting.

Overnight, private health care costs, car insurance and maintenance costs, household bills, property taxes, strata fees and grocery costs can all be reduced or disappear entirely. For instance, if you’re looking into a senior’s residence that includes a complimentary shuttle or that has a great walk score, you could very well kiss your fuel, maintenance and insurance costs goodbye.

According to Jane Bryce, Marketing Manager at Bria Communities, an often-overlooked expense of remaining at home is renovations and upgrades to improve accessibility. If you or your loved one requires renovations to the home to make getting around more manageable, those costs can be prohibitive. And those changes are important to carefully consider, as they can affect the resale value of a home and appeal to all demographics, if or when you decide to sell. Stairlifts, specialty bathtubs, and lowered cupboards are just a few typical changes that can affect the home’s overall sale price.

Improved accessibility and onsite healthcare are two of the biggest benefits to transitioning to a senior’s residence and key reasons for making the move. Factoring in how much a private LifeLine service and home care costs per month, seniors and their families may find, depending on the level of care needed, the cost of living dips dramatically and those health care costs can be quickly absorbed by the benefit of around-the-clock staffing and onsite care. The cost for home health care support varies depending on income and eligibility, so there is no hard and fast number as to how much home care costs.

“When you factor in the different needs for each person, it becomes more affordable,” says Bryce. “You really do need to look at the whole picture, cost excluded, and consider how the benefits outweigh any potential cons.”

Oak Tree Manor in Nanaimo.

For residents who require complex and daily care, their rental rates can certainly undercut the undoubtedly higher costs of using a home care or monthly LifeLine service. Onsite care ensures that there is immediate medical response and daily assistance. Monthly costs are built into the rent, eliminating additional bills and scheduling, and the confusion they can often create for seniors and their caregivers.

The peace of mind that comes with in-house care is an immeasurable benefit to family members who typically arrange home care and assistance as a stop gap measure to keep their loved one looked after, whether they can’t be there or lack the capacity to provide medical care. At Oak Tree Manor, a Residential Care Facility in Nanaimo, there are no nurses or care aides on staff. Instead, Island Health provides onsite care aides who can assist residents as needed and staff members keep a watchful eye on residents in the close-knit community of 63 residents and eight staff members.

Another plus, according to Paul O’Neil, Manager of Oak Tree Manor, is that once a family member moves to a retirement home, the quality of the visits increase. Now, loved ones can visit whenever they like without needing to bring the groceries or chauffeur to appointments, and the burden is lessened, freeing up more time and energy to just enjoy being together. At Oak Tree, close family members are provided with a key to access the suite, which helps them feel more welcome and like they are visiting a private residence, increasing comfort for everyone involved. At night, after staff go home, the residence is patrolled by a security outfit.

Bryce also reports that many seniors and their families experience an elevated peace of mind, knowing that they’re not going to be home alone at night and that staff members are available 24/7 and assistance is always offered.

A huge factor in good health is a healthy diet, and having meals provided daily is a large perk to switching from living in a private residence. Both O’Neil and Bryce say that many seniors really enjoy no longer needing to budget, shop for, prep, and cook those three-square meals per day, or needing to spend time and energy with clean up.

Recognizing that many seniors would miss the ability to cook and host large family meals when they choose to, a growing number of residences are now offering a hobby/craft kitchen and oversized private and public dining rooms, to allow matriarchs and patriarchs to make a big holiday meal and enjoy it with their families and friends without having to worry about not having enough space, or having to take care of the dishes.

This growing trend reflects the diverse needs in today’s senior residences and is just one of many features included in newer establishments. Some also offer flexible meal plans that allow a resident to choose when and where they want to have their meal.

“Some seniors stop eating; they stop cooking meals for themselves and eating wholesome foods,” says O’Neil. “Paired with living in an apartment somewhere, they may not have any social interaction at all, and that combined with not eating properly, people get sick.”

A resident relaxes in the building’s lounge. Photo by Bria Communities.

Even basic meals on a set schedule can drastically improve the quality of life for seniors, who, when living alone, may lack the ability or desire to get groceries, cook and clean up.

This builds on to the benefits of living in a cohesive community. Whether small or large, regular and frequent socialization and the fostering of new relationships can eliminate the loneliness and boredom that tends to accompany aging in a private residence. As mobility gets to be more of a challenge, it’s tougher for seniors to get out and socialize, and a pattern can set in over time that can be difficult to break, until they are in a livelier setting surrounded by potential friends.

It’s often reported that when joining the community of a senior’s residence, there’s suddenly much more colour and activity in the days and nights, from the opportunity to join in at the gym, to the ability to hop on the bus and go for outings to local theatres and events, to simply enjoying an evening with friends playing cards or taking part in a workshop.

“The majority of people do want the social interaction. Everyone is shy when they come in, but eventually someone will be grabbed into a crib game or something, and then they blossom,” says O’Neil.

Many of today’s residences are so diverse and offer many different indoor and outdoor activities suited to all lifestyles. Workout facilities are a huge draw for many residents who can simply walk down the hall and begin a workout or enjoy an in-house fitness class in the common room, instead of spending valuable time and money driving across town and paying membership fees to a public gym.

Covered walking/fitness loops, saltwater pools and hobby buildings for various crafts are all becoming recreational staples, and gardening is a classic hobby that’s getting plenty of attention from developers of newer care homes as an important physical and mental activity. Emphasis is being placed on creating shared gardens within the surrounding community, on rooftop terraces, and within greenhouses on the properties. Everything from seeds to soil are typically available at a resident’s disposal to encourage this hobby. No longer do residents need to pay someone to come in and help, or toil over weeding or lawn mowing. Now, gardeners and maintenance workers will do all the hard work, and residents get to simply enjoy the fresh air and all the therapeutic benefits of growing fresh fruits and vegetables.

With an ever-growing array of amenities, options and extras, no two residences are exactly alike, and the key to transitioning to an affordable retirement lifestyle is finding which one suits your various needs and wants, within a reasonable budget.

“There certainly are a lot of options out there for our seniors, which allows seniors to tour around and ultimately find the place that feels just like home to them,” says Bryce.

Some seniors prefer a quieter, smaller residence with the option to stroll through the neighbourhood on sunny days, while others prefer to live in a larger resort-style community with endless amenities and activities. It all comes down to personal preferences on location, amenities, lifestyle and, ultimately, affordability.


When affordability is a real issue, residents eligible for publicly subsidized living pay a monthly fee of 70 percent of their after-tax income for rent, hospitality services and personal assistance services, up to a maximum amount (gov.bc.ca).

A rundown of costs generally included in a senior residence:

  • Heat
  • Electricity
  • Cable
  • Meals
  • Housekeeping
  • Security
  • 24-hour emergency response
  • Transportation
  • Secure parking
  • Fitness and recreation
  • Health care

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