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Building for an aging population

Ellis Jovica of Jovica Property Management, behavioural therapist Twyla Hayes, builder Cory Krygier and developer Sano Stante, inside the former Renfrew convent they are renovating into specialized housing.

Calgary project takes cues from Holland's Dementia Village to target a growing demographic of seniors in cognitive decline

A Calgary a developer, a builder and a behavioural therapist have launched a three-way partnership to build housing projects in Calgary aimed at people with dementia, loosely based on Holland's Dementia Village prototype.

Many Canadian developers are focused on adaptive housing and facilities to address the physical challenges associated with an aging population, but real estate agent and developer Sano Stante, builder Cory Krygier and behavioural therapist Twyla Hayes are preparing to launch Life House, a housing model for seniors affected by cognitive decline.

Housing options for Canada's growing population of seniors have been on the agenda of developers for several years now. Currently, seniors account for 16 per cent of Canada's population; it's estimated that by 2027, that number will have risen to more than 20 per cent. It's expected that retirement homes, assisted-living models and solutions for aging in place will all continue to be big business over the next decade.

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Mr. Stante, Mr. Krygier and Ms. Hayes, with investment from Jovica Property Management, are currently renovating an inner city convent as a prototype for their business model. The new Life House is expected to open its doors in the fall.

"I work for a lot of assisted-living care providers who are always looking for two- or three-acre sites in the suburbs to build these huge 150-unit seniors centres," says Mr. Stante, "but those sites are now in really short supply in Calgary. Cory and I had been talking about building inner-city housing for seniors for a while. We knew how to deliver the real estate side, but we didn't know how to deliver the care aspect," he explains.

Calgary convent, which is being turned into a Dementia Village-style residence.

Meanwhile, Ms. Hayes was seeking a bricks and mortar site to house her vision for a new model of care for people with dementia, which she says is growing to "epidemic levels."

According to the Alzheimer society of Canada, as of 2016, an estimated 564,000 Canadians are living with dementia. By 2031, the number of Canadians with dementia is expected to be 937,000; an increase of 66 per cent. Ninety-five per cent of sufferers are over the age of 65.

"Life House Cares is a non-profit healthcare provider; that's Twyla's department," explains Mr. Stante. "Life House Communities will provide and own the real estate to enable the rapid expansion of the model."

With the team in place, Mr. Stante purchased the Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate convent in the northeast community of Renfrew in March, 2016, for $720,000. He calls it a "serendipitous purchase" because, as a boy, he was taught by the nuns who lived there. He says the timing was perfect for all parties.

"The convent came to the market at exactly the right time They had something that suited our project but probably wouldn't suit many other buyers," he says. "I mean, what do you do with a building with ten bedrooms, two kitchens and living rooms and a chapel?"

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Inside the Calgary convent.

The design principles guiding the renovation are based on Dementia Village, a facility in Holland founded by two architects in 2009 which provides a custom environment for seniors living with dementia.

Ms. Hayes, 27, visited Dementia Village in 2012 as part of her research.

"Dementia has been labelled as looking a certain way in North America and in Dementia Village you see a very different expression of the illness," she explains. "Patients are calmer, happier and require less medication. That's down to environmental design which is an integration of architecture, interior design and landscape."

Ms. Hayes's interest in behavioural environmental design is shaping the transformation of the 3,500 square-foot convent into what she terms "a healing home" which will have ten resident bedrooms, centred around communal dining and social areas.

"By using design to trigger behaviour, we can treat residents in a way that's really holistic. For example, a symptom of dementia and Alzheimers is wandering," says Ms. Hayes. "Our home will have a looped pathway inside and out so that residents can safely burn off excess energy."

Kitchen inside the Calgary convent.

"The entire home will be designed so that key aspects of memory are triggered and way-finding opportunities are maximized because those are extremely important for people exhibiting dementia," she continues. "It makes the job of the medical team providing the care so much easier because the environment is doing a good portion of the work."

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Ms. Hayes believes buildings which have "a heritage of serving the community" are best suited to the job of providing community-based residential care. But she says they also want to prove that their model can work within existing buildings in established neighbourhoods.

"We really want people to see the potential for this within their own communities," she says, "because that's where care works best. Keeping our seniors in established communities also gives back to those communities."

The cost to renovate the convent has been higher than Mr. Stante expected. "It will cost more than the building, that's for sure," he says, but he admits the expense is mainly due to meeting the building codes required to provide end of life care.

"That's something most care homes don't provide," he says, "but it was important to Twyla that we had that."

Hogewey, or Dementia Village, as it has come to be known, is an elder care facility in Weesp, a suburb of Amsterdam.

From a business perspective, Mr. Stante considers Life House Communities to be "just a different kind of infill development that caters to an aging population."

He believes there's a market for inner-city, community-integrated care and he says the model isn't confined to dementia care but could cover a broad spectrum of niche seniors' health issues or cultural groups.

"We'd like this approach to be adopted all across Canada," he says. "And I believe there's a need for it."

According to the 2016 National Seniors' Housing Survey conducted by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the number of residents in seniors housing in Canada rose 4.5 per cent between 2015 and 2016. This outpaced the increase in spaces which rose by 3.6 per cent during the same period.

"There has to be more innovative real estate solutions for elder care," he says "Ones which don't involve shipping our seniors out to the suburbs to live in a one-size-fits-all institution."

Ms. Hayes agrees. "Our elders deserve better and it's our generation's turn to give back now."

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