Shelley’s caregiving journey….(taken from “All Under One Roof” ebook, available June 2016)
When I started my caregiving journey in 2007, I had no idea how it would impact my life and just how difficult it would be. My parents supported me both emotionally, and financially throughout my lifetime. So when they needed more support in their later years, being there for them was the least I could do. What I didn’t realize at the time, was just how significant the day to day impact of caregiving would be to me and my family, both financially and emotionally. It changed my life. How did this happen? Was it because I lived in the same town as mom and dad that their care fell to me, and not my siblings?
My older brother lived in Whistler, British Colombia and rarely came back to Ontario. Sandra, who really would have been the better choice as a caregiver, but lived 3 hours away in Oakville. Besides my husband, my sister Sandra was my pillar of strength, and I depended on her. But I have to admit, I was jealous of her. She was able to come for a visit, give all kinds of advice, pass an opinion, then get back in the car and drive away. Our issues weren’t at the forefront of her mind until the next phone call, emergency, or visit.
In spite of all that wealth, my father—who was then one of the most successful and recognized municipal planners in Canada—somehow forgot to plan for retirement. My father was well known for claiming he’d, “never retire”. After 50 years, however, it became clear that just wasn’t possible. Honored and respected by his peers for his futuristic vision into the development of towns, cities, and the urban sprawl, how was it possible that he hadn’t protected his own fortune? In the end, he had no registered retirement savings plans, property, or cash. But he did have a CHIP reverse mortgage on his family home, which was eating his equity at a terrible rate.
and insisted on doing everything their own way. But it didn’t take long to realize this may not be possible, and furthermore, Sandra and I realized they were no longer safe in their own home. So eventually, someone had to step in and help them. My sister and I had joint Power of Attorney (POA) for both property and personal care. For many caregivers starting on their journey, this is extremely important; it ensures your loved ones and their wishes are followed and protected.
I would recommend every family have two POA’s representing their loved ones, because any important decisions are discussed before being finalized. In this stressful time, it is often difficult for the siblings to understand and agree on many issues surrounding the changing needs of their parents.
When Community Care Access Center (CCAC) advised us that dad would soon be incapable of making the decision to put mom into a long-term care home, Sandra and I were forced to finalize the decision. Immediately, we realized once we moved mom into to the long-term care facility her monthly pension went with her, leaving scarcely enough for Dad to maintain the family home. Mom had some Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs), and there were a few life insurance policies, but they were not much good to anyone while the insured was remained alive. So the question was, how were mom and dad going to live comfortably after involuntary separation?
I guess because I was the caregiver who they saw the most, I was the target of their anger and frustration as life changed around them. It was very difficult and upsetting to have my very close relationship with both mom and dad deteriorate in front of my eyes.
There were days I would cry with frustration and I realized over the five years as the caregiver, I lost hundreds of hours of sleep and thousands of dollars in lost wages. I spent countless hours in discussions with Service Canada, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), CCAC, creditors, insurance companies, Victoria Order of Nurses (VON), doctor’s, hospital emergency visits, banks, lawyers, and correspondence—all in an effort to help them. It was a thankless job and quite often my own siblings didn’t understand my frustrations.
Surely I wasn’t alone in this? There had to be other families going through the same thing, and if it hadn’t happened yet, others would soon be facing the horrendous decisions and difficulties I went through. Some part of me knew it didn’t have to be this hard—so I continued to research, trying to find a way to make it easier for not only me, but also other families and their loved ones.
I recognized that options for retirement housing for anyone’s elderly parents were limited only to large, established retirement homes, and nursing homes.
And yet, no one truly wants to be admitted to one. My mother screamed and begged me not to leave her there—even with the Alzheimer’s making it impossible to keep her at home. It still remains the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
So I searched for other options. We found numerous retirement housing models in Denmark, England, and New Zealand that, while not perfect, were the inspiration behind the Solterra Concept. With the assistance of my husband, Gilbert, a licensed carpenter and expert in the construction industry in Ontario, we developed an innovative solution for seniors that would work and prosper in Canada.
The Solterra model allows seniors the opportunity to “age at home.” Each co-owner purchases a percentage interest in a shared home and they are able to maintain financial independence, stability, safety, dignity and self-respect.
This model results in substantial savings both financially and emotionally for the private individuals involved, the families and the public health care system in Canada. As the Baby boomers move into their retirement years, shared housing, cohousing, and co-ownership for seniors will take off across North America and provide the solution for economical, independent living.
The development of affordable senior housing solutions improves local communities and aids in the development of a strong and prosperous future for seniors and individuals as they age.