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Burnaby, B.C. native Donna Weddell faced a decision two years ago when her husband died. She was in a house larger than she needed and decided it was time to reset her life.DARRYL DYCK

There comes a time when many older Canadians realize that their home is too much of a burden and it makes sense to downsize into something more manageable.

For some retired people, that means looking into retirement living communities – also known as an active adult or adult lifestyle communities – with amenities and services and a chance to be among other seniors who share their outlook and interests.

Selecting the right retirement residence can be one of the most difficult decisions for seniors to make, with many of the same questions first-time home buyers have such as: ‘What can I afford?’ ‘What are the amenities and services available?’ And ‘What are the neighbours like?’

It was a challenge that Donna Weddell faced two years ago when her husband died: a life-changing event. The Burnaby. B.C. native suddenly found she was in a house larger than she needed and decided it was time to reset her life.

“When he died, it suddenly hit me that I was on my own. Suddenly everything is different,” says Ms. Weddell, 74.

With the encouragement and help of her sister and her daughter, she searched for options, including apartment buildings that weren’t specifically designed for seniors. They weren’t seen as adequate because they lacked senior-friendly features such as walk-in showers. Then her sister remembered there was a retirement building under construction and ultimately, they visited and settled on the new “boutique-style” Chartwell Carlton Retirement Residence in Burnaby.

She was attracted to a list of amenities at the independent-living facility, including an on-site chauffeur and maintenance staff as well as the social contact that she was missing as a widow.

“I didn’t want to be in a big high-rise or interact with neighbours that were younger than I was or rowdier than I was,” she says. “This seemed like a very good fit: I would get the socialization. I meet new people in like circumstances, and everything is provided for me.”

Ms. Weddell is now settled in a two-bedroom suite in the new “boutique-style” Chartwell Carlton Retirement Residence in Burnaby with one room devoted to her quilting and knitting hobbies.DARRYL DYCK

Ms. Weddell is now settled in a two-bedroom suite (one room is devoted to her quilting and knitting hobbies) with two bathrooms and a balcony with a view of north Vancouver. The building features dining rooms and a chef, so she doesn’t need to cook her own meals.

She exercises twice a week at the gym, has joined the quilting group and learned to knit with other residents. She was a regular traveller, pre-pandemic, and looks forward to taking a couple of cruises in 2022 without worrying about her home. “It’s nice just to turn the key and walk away.”

Ms. Weddell’s successful transition has been an eye-opening experience for her younger sister, Pam Dowler, 69, a retired emergency nurse who lives with her husband on Vancouver Island.

“If I lose my husband, I will definitely look at something like that because when you have a large home, you would have to hire people,” Ms. Dowler says.

She and her husband George, a former fighter pilot with the Canadian armed forces, are very active.

They have a dog, are part of a sportscar driving club and are part of regular backroads driving meets, are regular cruisers and active Rotary members. Like her sister, she is an avid quilter and goes on quilting retreats with her while her husband spends time in his woodworking shop and tinkers with cars.

“We are very active; I hate to say, not like our parents were at the same age,” Ms. Dowler says.

Still, she has already done some preliminary research on where she would relocate to in the future. “It really has to be the right place. We had a couple of retirement places, but they were not really upscale.”

Like her older sister, Ms. Dowler has her eye on a building currently under construction that looks like it will suit the needs of her and her husband.

“It has pubs, you can have pets, there are no restrictions. It is like cruising. You have to find the right cruise line that appeals to what you like to do. If you are a foodie and like good wine, you have to pick one that does that. Most of these being built now I think seem to be for seniors who enjoy an active lifestyle.”

She does have some hard and fast rules: pick a place geographically close to your family – and never move in with your kids no matter how much you may love them and the grandchildren.

“Having been a nurse, I see how relationships can sometimes get destroyed where the children become the parents,” Ms. Dowler adds.

As the retirement community industry continues to innovate – driven by the huge baby boomer demographic who are wealthier than any age cohort before them – one constant remains: the more money you have the better your choices and options.

“If people are active, they can have great retirements, but it does all boil down to money,” says Kate Tinnerman, founder of Assisted Transitions of Toronto, which helps seniors select the right retirement residence.

So far, Ms. Tinnerman, 65, has resisted the lure of moving to a retirement residence. She currently rents part of her downtown Toronto home to a student; the second university tenant she has had in four years and enjoys the freedom (and money) it provides her.

“I have a dog. I have a cat. I go away a lot. Just having someone young in your house is so nice.”

Like Ms. Dowler, she’s keeping track of her options, noting a new retirement community nearby has prompted some of her neighbours to sell their homes and move in.

“I almost got a place there,” Ms. Tinnerman says. “I thought I should have a place there and then rent it out in case I need to go there one day.”

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