Choosing a Retirement Residence in Canada: Checklist of things to consider

Making the decision to move:

  • First, figure out what you can afford. Work out a budget and account for all sources of income to which you may be entitled (including Old Age Security, CPP or theQuebecequivalent, Guaranteed Income Supplement, veterans’ allowance, private pensions, spousal allowance). Frequently, Old Age Security may be the sole source of income available.
  • Determine your physical needs and whether they can be met at home. You may qualify for provincial Ministry of Health support, providing for such things as nursing, physiotherapy, homemaking and personal care. (These government-sponsored support services are also available for residents of retirement homes.)
  • Consider another option: Downsize your housing (e.g. move from a private home to a condo). This may provide you with the financial resources to get the extra support you need to continue living independently.
  • If you have long-term needs, you may consider a move into a government-regulated long-term care facility (nursing home), designed to provide a higher level of care than retirement homes.

Affordability and financial issues to consider:

  • Once you’ve established what you can afford, demand to see details on the type of services and care available. Establish how much is included in monthly rates and what’s extra.
  • If you’re on a tight budget, see if there’s social housing, non-profit or charitable homes in your neighbourhood, such as the Abbeyfield Houses Society, an international chain of non-profit residences. This would provide you with subsidized accommodation and some care services. Be aware that the waiting lists for such subsidized services can be very long. You may also wish to ask your target retirement home if it offers subsidized units (these are often not advertised).
  • Ask what kind of rental units are available.
  • Ask about the payment schedule. Can you pay by the month or do you have to pay several months in advance? Do you need to pay first and last month’s rent upfront?
  • Examine the facility’s contract/agreement.
  • Ask how the facility handles things like a bounced cheque.
  • Get proper powers of attorney in order so no one can tell you to hand over your money in an inappropriate fashion.
  • Before you move into a home, streamline your banking (e.g. set up direct deposits for rent, cable, etc. so tracking your finances is easier).

Know your resident rights:

  • Do residents have to sign in and out of the facility?
  • Are visitors allowed in the facility all the time or only at certain times and under certain circumstances?
  • Ask about the facility’s complaints process and how disputes are resolved.
  • Identify how the home is governed. If it’s non-profit, is there are a board of directors? If it’s a for-profit facility, determine who owns it (e.g. is it owned by a limited corporation, a numbered company or an individual?) Do residents have input into the home’s operations?
  • Inquire whether there is a board of governors’ trustee system – ensuring that there are people interested in the well-being of the residents (physical, financial and otherwise).
  • Make sure you get a contract in writing. It can be used in legal disputes, as required.


  • Check to see whether the home is physically accessible. Is there a wheelchair ramp? Is there an elevator within the facility?
  • Look for the location and accessibility of fire exits and other emergency exits.
  • If you have a mobility aid, like a wheelchair or walker, tour through one of the units to make sure it is compatible with your aid and your physical abilities. For example, can you reach the shelving?
  • Establish whether the facility is in a good location close to other community supports, like seniors programming and local shopping.
  • What kind of transportation (for example, bus service) is available to get you to the community supports?

Quality of care:

  • Examine staff attitudes. Talk to them. Do they speak your language?
  • As you tour the facility, examine the residents’ appearance, moods and ages.
  • Talk to medical staff and inquire about medication procedures. Check to see if residents are being overmedicated. Clues may include things like incessant licking of lips, sniffing behaviours or excessive sleeping.
  • Ask about staffing levels, particularly nighttime staffing. Determine the staff-resident ratio.
  • Inquire about the level of training of the staff, and whether they’re equipped to assist with special needs, e.g. colostomies.
  • Inquire about what happens if your condition deteriorates. Who decides when and under what circumstances you leave? What happens if you have nowhere to go? What are the grounds for eviction?

Social aspect:

  • Assess your needs for companionship and activity. Are you introverted or extroverted? Does the facility allow for optional participation in meals and social events?
  • Visit the facility at mealtime and meet the other residents; study interactions and talk to residents.
  • Find out what kind of social activities are planned daily, weekly or monthly.

Quality of food:

  • Examine the menu and its nutritional content.
  • Ask whether a registered dietician is consulted on the home’s meal plans and food preparation.
  • Visit the kitchen during mealtime and inspect how meals are prepared.
  • Find out whether they post menus ahead of time.
  • Ask whether they cater to therapeutic menus.


  • Inspect the kitchen.
  • Inspect the general cleanliness of the facility.

General safety issues:

  • Check fire protection systems.
  • Ask about the frequency of fire inspections, drills and how staff are trained to handle emergencies.
  • Find out if routes of escape and if residents are ever locked in their rooms “for their own safety.”

Fire Safety Issues: Questions to ask

* Do they have automated sprinklers?

* Do doors automatically close? Can doors be set to stay open?

* Do rooms have smoke detectors?

* Do they have an approved fire safety plan?


Source:  CBC Marketplace


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