Grey Days Ahead

Aging population points to need for up-to-date affordable living options

This year, Canada's baby boom generation will start to turn 65. That means over the next 20+ years, Alberta's senior population will more than double. Many of these seniors will need or want to live in seniors' living facilities. So is the Alberta residential construction industry ready for this major influx?

"Alberta currently has over 370,000 seniors, about one in 10 Albertans," according to a report by Alberta's Demographic Planning Commission. "In 10 years, Alberta can expect to have 555,000 seniors. In less than 20 years, the number of seniors in Alberta will double. In 2031, when the baby boom generation has reached age 65, Alberta is projected to have 880,000 seniors. One in five Albertans will be a senior."

These figures clearly indicate that current, affordable housing for Alberta's seniors will not meet future requirements.

The Alberta Senior Citizens' Housing Association (ASCHA) is an advocate for seniors' living choices in the province, representing approximately 60 per cent of the seniors' living options in Alberta; its membership serves over 25,000 seniors. Living options include housing for seniors with basic meal and housekeeping services, additional services through home care and 24-hour health care staffing.

Jim Hubbard, president of ASCHA, says: "Ever-increasing pressure and expectations are being placed on ASCHA's members to provide accommodation, support and health care for Alberta's seniors. As the seniors' population grows faster than it has in recent history, it is time for industry using frontline expertise to provide leadership in creating choices for seniors to age in the right place."

One of ASCHA's members, Lifestyle Options Ltd., a division of the Carrington Group of Companies, maintains that baby boomers don't want to go to nursing homes. Carrington, which has provided quality, affordable housing while at the same time providing opportunities for socializing and leisure for Edmonton's seniors since 1996, says its philosophy of care is prevention with daily participation in activities by focusing on the strengths and capabilities of each individual in meaningful life experiences through active lifestyles.

Lifestyle Options' apartment-style residences are located in Riverbend, Terra Losa and Whitemud. Amenities include grande and private dining rooms, exercise and fitness rooms, a general store, libraries, computer rooms, beauty salons and gardens-just to name a few. All suites are handicapped accessible and include a walk-in shower or bathtub.

All of Lifestyle Options' residences include a health care component, with some residences offering a secure dementia unit, health and wellness services, home support services and companion care.

Another ASCHA member, Continuum Health Care Holdings Ltd. (CHCH), is an Alberta-based care provider that has been specializing in the operation of supportive and assisted living facilities since 1992.

CHCH owns and operates seniors' living facilities in Olds, Lethbridge, Wetaskiwin, Ponoka and Camrose, with a total of 400 suites. Seniors' living facilities in High River and Drayton Valley are scheduled to open in the near future.

"The staff at CHCH's seniors' living facilities take the function and design of the buildings and use it to enhance the lives of the residents by promoting an atmosphere of wellness," says Stacey Dick, communications manager at CHCH.

CHCH has built a model for its seniors' living facilities called Sunrise Village. "Sunrise Village residences have been purpose-built for seniors," Dick says. Apartment-style suites are generously sized and barrier free to allow easy movement for seniors who use wheelchairs or walkers. Bathrooms include raised toilets, walk-in showers, adjustable-height showerheads and safety grab bars. Hallways are wide and have handrails for support and safety, and doors are three feet wide and have lever-style door handles.

Builders of today's seniors' living facilities include many on-site amenities that a generation ago didn't have. Not only are CHCH's seniors' living facilities located close to hospitals, but some of CHCH's residences' on-site amenities include elegant dining rooms, multi-purpose lounges, hair salons, tea rooms, green spaces, fitness rooms with user-friendly exercise equipment, hydrotherapy rooms and foot care spaces.

Medican General Contractors, originally started as a concrete company in Medicine Hat in 1974, graduated to building seniors' assisted living facilities in 1999. Medican is working in partnership with Extendicare and the Brenda Strafford Foundation to ensure that the design and functionality of their residences meets or exceeds seniors' special health and social requirements.

"We are proud to play a part in bringing affordable, supportive living units to the public," says Harvey Mueller, vice-president of construction for Medican. "Medican has played a pivotal role in constructing these quality facilities for organizations like Extendicare, and we take great pride in our workmanship and ability to deliver on time and on budget."

Medican's seniors' assisted living facility construction projects include Extendicare Fairmont Park in Lethbridge with 140 suites, which opened in February, and Extendicare Michener Hill in Red Deer with 280 suites, which opened in September 2010. Currently under construction are Okotoks Tudor Manor with 149 suites, expected to open in January 2012, and Extendicare Eaux Claire in Edmonton with 180 suites.

Medican is also general contractor for the extension of Medicine Hat South Country Village, Heritage Heights, with an additional 40 suites, which is expected to be complete in August. Prior to the expansion, this was a 90-suite residential building.

The seniors' living facilities that Medican constructs are handicap accessible, which includes barrier-free suites and wide doors. Special features in the bathroom include sink taps and bathtubs that accommodate seniors, raised toilets and safety grab bars.

In terms of amenities, the Extendicare facilities include spas with soaker tubs, food service, family dining rooms and bistros. The Heritage Heights facility in Medicine Hat includes a library, fitness centre, games room and multi-purpose room. Amenities differ from one assisted living facility to the next.

As each baby boomer reaches retirement age, some will continue to live in their primary residences, some will move in with family and some will move out of the province to their retirement destination. But for the baby boomers who choose to stay in Alberta and live out their retirement years, residential construction companies that build seniors' living facilities will have their work cut out for them as they try to build enough facilities for this burgeoning population group.

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