Retirement Living

Are Retirement Homes Safe During The COVID-19 Pandemic?

September 8, 2020

Are you grateful your aging parent didn’t move to a retirement home before the pandemic hit? You’re not alone.

Now that the first wave of COVID-19 in Ontario has passed, you still may be not be convinced that it’s safe for them to make such a move.

The trouble is your mom or dad isn’t coping well at home. Physical distancing has prevented you from checking in on them as often as you’d like. You worry that they’ve become isolated. When you do see them, they’re looking frail or they’re not thinking clearly. Their need for support – whether that’s with household chores or personal care – may have increased.

If you have two parents and one is looking after the other, you’re now concerned about both of them. Caregiving is taking a physical and emotional toll.

Maybe you already chose a retirement home, but those plans were put on hold when the coronavirus hit and lockdowns began.

So, what can you do? After all, the pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon.

It may surprise you to learn that moves to retirement homes are picking up again. That’s because many seniors and their families are recognizing that they’re still a good option.


Retirement homes have infection control protocols that have become more refined as our understanding of COVID-19 has grown. Their screening of residents, staff, and visitors has evolved. Some homes have completely revamped their operating models to make sure that any infection that might occur is quickly contained.

It’s also important to consider that most of the major outbreaks that occurred during the first wave of the pandemic were in long-term care homes as opposed to retirement homes. That often wasn’t clear in media reports that tended to lump the two together. Check out our post on the difference between retirement and long-term care if you’d like this clarified.

Social Life

Despite physical distancing measures, staff at retirement homes have found many creative ways to keep residents socially connected both with their neighbours and their families (including video-chatting and physically-distanced activities). In fact, the odds of becoming socially isolated are often greater for seniors who continue to live alone in their own homes, especially during the pandemic.

Chairs marked for social distancing
Retirement homes have found many creative ways to keep residents socially connected

Moving In

Under current provincial rules, people who move into a retirement must self-isolate for 2 weeks. That may sound a little off-putting, but many retirement homes have come up with innovative ways to help new residents feel part of the community despite these restrictions.

In some cases, new residents are offered larger suites while in quarantine. Staff spend more one-on-one time with them. Meals are delivered to their suite. Some homes even provide new residents with computer tablets pre-loaded with relevant apps to help them stay connected and entertained.

Questions To Ask

The bottom line is that a retirement home may be safer and less socially-isolating for your parent than staying in their own home as the pandemic drags on. Whether you’re reconsidering a retirement community you chose previously, resuming your search, or starting from scratch, here are a few questions you can ask:

  • What measures do you have in place to keep residents safe?
  • Have you had an outbreak in the past and what did you do to contain it?
  • What have you done to maintain the community social life?
  • What are the rules around visits by family during the pandemic?
  • If I can’t tour your home in-person, how can you help us figure out whether you’re a good fit?
  • Tell us about the 2 weeks after moving in. What does that look like? How do you help new residents feel welcome?

During the initial phases of the pandemic, Tea & Toast helped families take video tours of retirement homes in the Ottawa area. These types of tours proved to be very thorough. Now that regulations have loosened, video tours can be used as a first step. Once you’ve narrowed down your choice of home, you can take an in-person tour as a group of two.

If you live in the Ottawa area, we’d be happy to help you with your search. Contact us.

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