A report on the future of long term care in Ontario

The province’s fiscal watchdog has issued a report regarding the future of long term care in Ontario.

After reading this report you may be looking alternative housing for your senior years. Silver Birch Village, a Senior Cohousing community in Sudbury may be what you are looking for.


long-term care

Getting older : a time for difficult questions

In some ways, watching someone you love grow old is a difficult experience.  However, it can also be an opportunity to draw upon their wisdom and learn from their journey and the choices they have made. 

I grew up in a typical French-Canadian family.  My parents fulfilled the traditional roles of that time, my father was the bread winner who worked hard at many jobs at the same time to provide for his family.  My mother worked just as hard keeping house, gardening, preserving food from that garden, sewing our clothes, and providing a loving home for her 7 children. 

As my parents grew older, they came to depend more and more on their children.  My father owned enough land that he was able to have some of his children build homes nearby.  My brothers and sisters are close enough to help with the garden, bring over a meal when necessary. Their proximity makes it easier to drop in and provide those important social connections.  Now that my mother is alone, this physical proximity has become even more important.  I have a brother who is mentally handicapped and still living at home with my elderly mother.  The love and support of my brothers and sisters who are physically close by has allowed them both to continue living at home and be independent.  The emotional currency that my mother invested for all those years has paid off.  She is still retaining her independence, physically active daily and emotionally connected to a community. 

I look at this positive model and realize that my situation is different.  I have three children not seven.  All three of my children have grown into happy and successful lives which I am extremely proud of.  The downside to this is that their lives are not in Sudbury.  As we get older, we will inevitably require support.  Do we pull up roots and begin a new life closer to our children or do we change our living circumstances so that we will have those supports as we grow older? 

Many of us are pondering these questions.  The book “From Age-ing to Sage-ing” by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi explores extended longevity and the call for new models of aging.  A model that challenges personal diminishment and disengagement from life as a given as we grow older.  This challenges us to “transform our conventional aging script and make our journey more triumphant”.  (page 13)

The cohousing movement gives us the opportunity to do just that.  To rewrite the old script where services are provided for a fee instead of providing for ourselves and where we are isolated and cut off from our community. To write a script where I age out at Silver Birch Village where the atmosphere will foster engaging in a community, physical activity and retaining my independence for as long as possible.

If you are interested in learning more about Silver Birch Village, join us for a 1 hour information session on June 2nd at 11:00 am or 7:00 pm, by contacting ann.frampton@gmail.com.   

The Science Behind Cohousing

Our blogs to date have looked at the emotional and psychological benefits of cohousing.  These intangibles are very important aspects of daily life.  In this blog, we will explore some of the tangible benefits of living at Silver Birch Village.  What are the links between science and cohousing?  There are many. 

In 1938 Harvard University undertook a study whose goal was to delve into the factors that contribute to happiness as we age.  This 75 year study followed 268 male graduates from Harvard and 456 men from lower income socio economic groups.  The findings of this study are based on brain scans, blood samples and self-reported surveys. 

The study concluded that the quality of our relationships as we age is one of the determining factors of good health.  How does this relate to Silver Birch Village?  The goal of Silver Birch Village is to create a cohousing community.  A community built on relationships. 

“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” said Robert Waldinger, director of the study, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Taking care of your body is important but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.”

It is a known scientific fact that proper nutrition is important in maintaining good health.  How will cohousing affect your nutrition as you age? The community will come together from some common meals.  Some senior cohousing groups have a soup freezer where people can help themselves when needed.  When your neighbor is there to pick up a few groceries there is better chance of eating a healthy meal rather than making do with tea and toast.    

Scientific research has shown that exercise is another important determinant of good physical and mental health. As we age, we are more likely to continue physical activity if we are surrounded by others who are choosing to be active. For example, you are more likely to continue walking daily if your neighbors are heading out every day and you can easily join them. 

And finally, there is the science of economics.  Sharing resources and dividing tasks within a group makes economic sense.  Owning your own home rather than renting or living in a retirement residence is a wise financial choice.    

Silver Birch Village senior cohousing just makes good sense when you look at the facts and figures as well as the warm fuzzies.

If you are interested in finding our more, contact Anne at ann.frampton@gmail.com to register for a one hour Introduction to Cohousing Workshop.

Date :  Wednesday, June 2nd

Times :  11:00 am with Janet and Carmen

                7:00 pm with Peter and Ann

A day in the life of Cohousing

Charles Durette and Katie McCammant, architects who studied in Denmark are largely responsible for the proliferation of Cohousing in North America.  As a small group of friends we used Charles’ book on Seniors Cohousing to launch Silver Birch Village.  This video with the folks from Wolf Creek Lodge will give you a great view of what living at Silver Birch Village will be like.

Why I chose cohousing

a personal reflection by Debbie, a member of Silver Birch Village

It was hard to watch my parents age.  When my Mom and Dad were younger they had a large circle of friends who got together often.  As my parents aged, they found their house was too big and too much work for them.  They made the decision to sell that house and move into an apartment across town.  When they moved from their long-term neighbourhood, they didn’t see their friends as often.  As they grew older, they started seeing their friends even less.  It didn’t help that my Dad no longer liked night driving.  

When my Dad got sick a number of years later, he didn’t want my Mom to be left alone in the apartment so they put their names on a waiting list for a retirement home.  Unfortunately, the list was long and my Dad passed away before they were able to make that move. Without my Dad, my Mom was incredibly lonely in that apartment.  All of her children worked full time, her friends and family were scattered around the city and my Mom no longer drove.  

When her name finally made it to the top of the waiting list for the retirement home, the move was difficult and intimidating.  She had to leave all of the shared memories that she and my Dad had made in that apartment and move to a new home on her own.   It took some time to settle in, but to my amazement my Mom started to thrive again.  She once again had people around her.  She joined art classes, exercise groups and Friday night cribbage.  She began to smile again.

Having many people around is a real benefit of a retirement home, but there are also a few drawbacks.  Most retirement home apartments have a microwave and mini fridge but no stove, so my mom can no longer cook for herself.  Meals are served at specific times, not necessarily when she feels like eating.  And of course there is the cost – upwards of $46,000 annually for her one bedroom apartment.

I admire my parents’ foresight in planning their future.  They knew that changes would be needed at various stages in their lives, and they addressed those changes as best they could with the options that were available at that time.  

But being a part of my Mom and Dad’s experience caused me to reflect on what I want my senior years to look like.  My husband and I want our aging process to look different than my parent’s, and we are able to do that because of cohousing.

It seems that all too often, the current cycle of aging involves these steps:

  1. living in our home until a sudden health crisis occurs or we are no longer able to manage the workload of maintaining a large single family home
  2. moving to an apartment that is easier to maintain
  3. moving to a retirement home when living independently in an apartment becomes too difficult
  4. moving from there to Long Term Care if medical needs dictate

I wanted to avoid the pitfall of having to make housing decisions under pressure or in times of crisis, and then finding few alternatives available.  I feel that by moving into a cohousing environment, my husband and I will be able to remain there indefinitely,  unless we need some type of specialized care.  Cohousing will replace the need to move to a retirement home.

Because we are going to be part of an intentional community we will already be living among friends and good neighbours who know us.  Of course, we will maintain our relationships with friends and family outside of that community, but we will not have to worry about night driving for social connections, since we will have community built in.  When we eventually lose a partner, the surviving partner will have a caring group of people around them to help with the grief and loneliness.

I feel that moving to cohousing now while we are in our 60s and still fairly young is smart planning.  Relationships take time to build.  Cohousing is not only about aging in place – it is about living in a social, nurturing environment.  It is for people of all ages. I want to be part of a community that rallies around one another when needed; but I am really looking forward to having great fun with the group of wonderful friends and neighbours  in Silver Birch Village 

How will we meet the home care and health care needs of residents of Silver Birch Village?

Silver Birch Village is a senior cohousing development where the intent is to age out together.  Many people ask: “what happens when everybody gets old at the same time and has needs to be met?” There are three variables that come into play. 

The first variable is co-care.  The word care immediately suggests health care, professionals who offer a spectrum of services from personal care to surgeries.  This is not co-care.  Co-care is an intentional process that develops as relationships develop.  The people at Silver Birch Village will all be of different ages and at various stages of the aging process.  As we grow old together, we offer to water a neighbor’s plants, check on their home when they are away or pick up a prescription.  We share meals on a regular basis and get to know each other.  We commit to one another and the relationship grows.  If you know that your neighbor has recently had surgery, you check-in to see if they need anything, you bring over a meal so they can get proper nutrition and recover promptly.  We won’t all age in the same way or at the degree and will have various abilities and talents that we will share. 

The second variable comes into play once those needs go beyond what we can do for each other. We would find professionals to fulfill those needs as we would if we were living in an apartment or a single-family dwelling.  Outside caregivers come into your home just as they would in the community.  If needed, as a group, we could pool our resources and hire a caregiver. 

The third variable comes into play in when planning Silver Birch Village. Accessibility and universal design will be incorporated into each unit so that as we require mobility aids, we can still access bathrooms and other areas in our homes. 

Certainly, there will be some people whose needs will necessitate a move to long term care.  However, living in an active and connected cohousing community will promote healthy aging. This will help us avoid the costly retirement home option.  At Silver Birch Village our community will face the realities of growing older and aging in place together.

Is there an ideal time to move to Silver Birch Village ?

Selective Focus Photography Pink and White Petaled Flowers

This is a very difficult question to answer and depends very much on the individual. For many people, watching their parents age out leads them to question themselves about how they want to live out their senior years. In many cases, our parents have waited too long to make this choice for themselves and are left with few options. 
Often, the children become the parents and are forced to make very important choices for their parents. Living in their own homes becomes unsustainable and there is the heart-breaking process of finding suitable living arrangements. If we leave these choices too late then they are often made for us. 
Silver Birch Village participants are active individuals who recognize that by sharing responsibilities rather than giving them up they will retain their independence longer.  We often don’t have the energy necessary to create this environment in our older senior years. 
Silver Birch Village is based on reciprocity: giving and receiving support from our neighbours. If you move in at a stage where you are unable to give as well as receive, you’ve waited too long. It takes time to build the relationships that bring about the give and take we will need as we get older. The following quote from a cohousing resident sums it up nicely: “You will get the most out of senior cohousing by joining in your fifties and sixties. I have an eighty-two-year-old friend who says he’s not ready for this yet, and unfortunately, he’s missed out on years of neighborly companionship. This is not where you go to end your life; it’s where you go to live. Physically, it’s a lot easier to downsize and move when you’re younger instead of waiting for a medical crisis and realizing you’re left with unappealing options. “State of the Art Cohousing by Alexandria Levitt and Charles Durrett (page 118)

Traditional Development vs. Cohousing Development

How does a traditional development differ from a cohousing development?  At Silver Birch Village we are not just building houses, we are building a community.  

When a traditional developer builds a complex, he does many of the same things that a cohousing group does, buy property, hire professionals as needed, get permits, arrange construction financing, hire a general contractor and so on.  Their marketing staff sells the houses.  What they would not do is:

  • Involve the future owners in designing the project.
  • Find a cohesive group to create a sense of community.
  • Establish a process for decision making and governance.

These are the main attributes which make Silver Birch Village different from mainstream housing developments. 

Most housing choices for seniors are not self-directed.  Generally, independent living or assisted living developments are owned by large corporations where residents do not have a say on most aspects of their daily lives.  It is an arrangement where all services are provided for a fee. 

Cohousing requires that a person participate in the running of the complex and engages in the community.  This investment in time and effort goes towards building a support system that will be there as we age.  This promotes healthy aging and goes a long way to counter the loneliness and isolation that many seniors feel in traditional settings. 

By valuing our combined skills and abilities, Silver Birch Village will become a place where independence is respected but at the same time there is a commitment to facing the ups and downs of aging together. 

If you are interested in finding out more about Silver Birch Village, join us for a 1 hour zoom workshop on April 28th at 11:00 am or 7:00 pm.  To register, email Ann at annframpton@gmail.com.  

Cohousing and privacy

The residents of Silver Birch Village consist of a wide variety of people who choose to live in this community so they can age out in a place where they have built relationships with their neighbours and can count on them for a helping hand.  Sounds good in theory, but does that mean that you are giving up your privacy when you live in cohousing?

At Silver Birch Village, all residents are financially independent of the cohousing community, each home is privately owned.  The only money transactions in the community involve monthly dues for upkeep of the common house and occasional special assessments.  You own your own home; social norms provide a structure that protects privacy. Neighbors would not walk into another’s home without knocking.  

Cohousing developments are designed to assure individual privacy.  At most cohousing developments, each home has its own private outdoor space.  If you need some alone time you can relax in your own yard or balcony.  However, if you would like to enjoy a morning coffee with your neighbour, there is always a communal area where you can sit and have a chat.  The need for private time and public time is recognized and respected.  There are structures put into place to respect this.  For example, in some cohousing communities it is recognized that if someone is sitting on their front porch, they are open to interacting with others.  If you are sitting in your back yard, you are looking for private time. 

Social gatherings are not mandatory.  This includes common meals.  Every home has its own kitchen facilities. However, the larger kitchen in the common area is available for those who choose to use it.

Some people see their daily walk as a chore, they need the motivation of a walking partner or group to make the time for it.  Cohousing makes it easy to reach out and find a walking partner. For others, taking a daily walk is their private time, a type of meditation.  There is no obligation to include a neighbour in this activity. 

In the Silver Birch Village community, there will be a high level of formal and informal interaction. Many couples have different personality types and needs for alone/group time.  If one person is more outgoing and the other is more private the cohousing model accommodates both of their needs. Residents can choose how much they engage in order to find the right balance between their privacy and the community. 

The point of cohousing is to build such a community where people are there for each other. Living at Silver Birch Villages requires a desire to actively live and participate in that community.  This does not mean that you give up your privacy.  The varying needs of the members of the community are respected. 

If you are interested in finding out more about cohousing, join us for a one-hour information session.

When : Wednesday, April 28th

Session One: 11:00 am with Janet and Carmen

Session Two : 7:00 pm with Peter and Ann

To register, contact Ann at ann.frampton@gmail.com

The sources used for this blog are the books Senior Cohousing : A New Way Forward for Active Older Adults and State-of-the Art Cohousing:  Lessons Learned from Quimper Village. 

Cohousing and Consensus Decision Making

In my previous blog I equated cohousing to the old model of village life where people knew their neighbors and helped each other.  Sounds good but who manages this village and makes decisions about how it is run?  The Silver Birch Village group uses the Consensus Decision Making process.  In this post I will resume this process by pulling together the main ideas of the Rhizome guide to Consensus Decision-making from www.rhizome.coop.

Consensus decision making is one of the cornerstones of our group.  We were trained in the use of this model in a facilitated workshop. In this model, consensus is not unanimous agreement, it is unanimous consent.  We come together to make the best decision for our diverse group.  We share the common purpose of building and maintaining Silver Birch Village.   

For this process to work, all members must be willing to be a part of the group and trust that the others are as well.  All opinions hold equal value, and all members of the group must be open to hearing these opinions.  When making decisions and choices all members must look for the wider group. 

Consensus decision making is not a simple majority, the goal is to avoid majority/minority decisions which can lead to rifts and resentment in a group.  It therefore requires a deeper sense of shared values than most decision-making models.

Unity is at the core of the process.  This is very different from uniformity.  <Consensus asks people to be flexible in seeking the highest common factor.> It strengthens the group and helps to build relationships within the group. 

Consensus Decision Making works well when these tips are followed for setting the agenda. Ask yourself the following:

  • Are you making a proposal?
  • Having a discussion?
  • Making a decision?
  • Consider: What? So what? Now what?

 When voting, the Silver Birch Village members use a card system.  Green means you agree, yellow means that you can live with the decision even if you have certain reservations.  The red card allows you to block a proposal.  A member can only use a red card 5 times in a lifetime.  A block indicates that the group needs to back up, amend the proposal or return to the broad discussion and look for a new proposal.  Usually if there is strong opposition, the group will work together to find a solution that is acceptable to all. 

Consensus decision making is hard work.  This hard work is building the foundations of Silver Birch Village.  If you would like more information about our group, join us for a one-hour orientation workshop.  

When: Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Optional Times:

Session One: 11:00 a.m. with Janet and Carmen

Session Two: 7:00 p.m. with Ann and Peter

To register, please email Ann at ann.frampton@gmail.com