Retirement Living

Retirement Community Options in the Ottawa Area

October 13, 2020

There are a lot of different types of retirement homes in the Ottawa area. They cater to a range of seniors, from those who want to downsize but have no intention of slowing down to those looking for support with things like meals, medications, and personal care.

You may hear a lot of terms bandied about to describe different living arrangements within retirement communities: independent living, assisted living, memory care, respite care, convalescent care. And you may wonder, What do they mean?

Here’s a quick overview from Amy Friesen, retirement home expert and Founder of Tea & Toast.

Independent living

For active seniors who need little or no help managing their health. They’ve grown tired of the hassles of keeping up a house and are ready to downsize. They like that they can choose to have various chores done for them like laundry and property maintenance. The new apartment likely includes a kitchen (or kitchenette) so they can continue to cook most of their own meals. They enjoy the social aspects of living in a seniors’ community, including programmed activities. Although they don’t need support with medications or personal care, seniors like the idea that it’s available if they need it one day.

Assisted living

For seniors who may no longer be thriving in their own homes, either because of health issues, social isolation, or a combination of the two. Moving to an assisted living apartment means that they can regain some of their independence and form new social connections. Meals are often provided along with things like laundry services. Medication management is also usually included. Help with personal care (e.g. dressing, bathing, grooming) is also available as needed. Services may be included with rent in the overall fees or they may be charged on an à-la-carte basis.

Memory care (or dementia care)

For seniors with dementia who may not be safe living on their own because they pose a risk to themselves or others. Memory care floors often have secure access, which controls the risk of residents – who may be disoriented – leaving the property and becoming lost. There’s usually a higher level of support from staff on these floors as well. Some retirement homes have special expertise in providing dementia care.

Three numbered brown doors
Which style is right for your loved one?

Respite care / convalescent care / short-term care / winter stay

Many retirement homes allow seniors to become temporary residents. These include seniors who aren’t yet sure whether retirement home living is a good fit for them, and they want to try it out for a limited period without making a long-term commitment. Or they’re recovering from surgery and want a place to convalesce until they can return to their own home. Or they’re feeling house-bound during the winter and want to spend a few months in a senior-friendly community with social activities (a kind of mini-vacation). Or a family member who’s been looking after them in their own home needs a few weeks off (respite).


Keep in mind that these are general descriptions. Different retirement communities may offer different sets of services and amenities within the same category. Some may offer several levels of service within a single category (e.g. within assisted living). Or they may have an option that bridges two categories (e.g. independent supported living).

Some communities span all these categories, offering what’s sometimes referred to as a continuum of living or continuum of care, the idea being that if your needs change in the future, you won’t necessarily have to move to a new place where people don’t know you.

The main thing to realize is that there are a wide variety of options out there. Retirement communities aren’t all the same.

Nursing / long-term care homes are different from retirement communities

Nursing homes or long-term care homes are for seniors who need a greater level of personal support and nursing care than most retirement communities can provide. Some companies that operate retirement homes also operate long-term care homes, sometimes right next door.

Getting into a long-term care home is more complicated than getting into a retirement home. For a long-term care home, you must first be assessed by the community agency responsible for coordinating long-term care home placements (Local Health Integration Network – Home and Community Care). Many long-term care homes have waiting lists and you may not get your first choice. Living in a retirement home doesn’t give you priority access to a long-term care home operated by the same company, even if it is just next door.

Need help understanding which option is right for you?

If you live in Ottawa, one of our Tea & Toast consultants would be pleased to help you figure out what type of living arrangement and which homes are a good fit for you or your family member. Additionally, sign up for our Roadmap to Long Term Care in Ontario course, being released soon.

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