Community Living Ajax Pickering and Whitby Reflects on What It Means to Age-in-Place

Community Living Ajax Pickering Whitby (CLAPW) offer a profound definition of “aging-in-place” and share with us their knowledge of and commitment to what it takes to support people lifelong. Lisa McNee Baker, Executive Director, describes the association’s work with end of life and hospice care, the need to tailor supports to people as they age, as well as recent efforts to assist someone to return to community from a long-term care facility. Lisa confirms the understanding that there is no due date on community living. CLAPW has committed itself to continue learning about what aging-in-place means and how to put it in practice.

By Lisa McNee Baker, Executive Director, Community Living Ajax Pickering and Whitby

Aging-in-place. What does it mean? It has a sort of clinical feel to it to me. I asked my 88-year-old mother and 90-year-old father what they thought of the term. And to them, aging-in-place means “staying in your own home with the help you need”. My mother maintains that once you go to long-term care “it’s all downhill from there!” My mom and dad have lived in the same house for 50 years.

To me, “aging-in-place” is about home. Being able to stay in one’s home with the appropriate supports in place so that life is good, people are safe and can make decisions about the types of supports they desire/need. 

At CLAPW we strive to help create a sense of home and belonging for the people we support. We see our residential options as a way to provide shelter that is stable, secure, personal, and enduring. We strive to help people stay at home throughout the stages of their lives, tailoring our support levels and our approaches to meet them where they are at.

We recently lost our oldest resident, who turned 100 last May. She had lived in the same house for the past 35 years. Her support needs changed as she aged (as they often do for folks who live to be 100!) and we changed with her. Our staff became so skilled at supporting her and caring for her. The palliative team that was in place the last couple of months of her life were blown away by the level of care and compassion demonstrated by our staff. Yes, she aged in place, but more importantly, she was surrounded by people who knew her so well, had supported her for years, cared for her deeply and respected her desire to live out her days in the place she had called home for decades.

In February we lost another person we had been supporting for 35 years to cancer. He was able to discuss and make decisions about his treatment options. He was clear about who he wanted to share his diagnosis with and who he was okay talking to about it. He planned for his funeral with staff support and was very clear that he wanted to die in his own bed in his home wearing his favourite pyjamas. He was very determined and courageous, as were the staff team that supported him. 

As a team, they rose to the challenge of the increased medical procedures that were required and provided him with the support and dignity that he so deserved. In the last week of his life, he asked to go on a drive to the country. He grew up a country boy and wanted to see the place that brought him so much pleasure. The staff team made it happen not just once but twice in the last week of his life. I am sure that this personal and responsive approach would not have happened had he been in the hospital or long-term care. 

We sadly are also aware of people with intellectual disabilities that have moved to LTC, some of them quite young. Sometimes this has happened when they move with a parent and sometimes it happens because there just are not any other options available to a person that may be facing homelessness. As an agency, we are committed to doing all we can to prevent the people we support from going to long-term care arrangements. As an agency, we are also committed to exploring how we can support the repatriation of people with intellectual disabilities from nursing homes to our service. 

We did just that recently when a woman who had been in our care years ago and then moved to a host family arrangement and then ultimately ended up in long-term care, returned to our agency to a home where she lives with two other people. Her chosen family remain involved and committed to supporting her in her new home, a lovely three-bedroom bungalow in Ajax.

It is not always perfect in congregate care settings. We know that. But we do our very best and start with the premise that the houses that comprise our residential services are HOME to the people who live there, and this is the most important focus. Yes, it’s a workplace, but it is HOME first. I think this approach helps us to keep the focus where it needs to be.

As an agency, CLAPW is excited to continue to explore the notion of “aging-in-place” and learning from the good people involved with Seniors for Social Action Ontario (SSAO). We recently had Doug Cartan and Linda Till join a board meeting to share their expertise and perspective on the topic and we are eager to continue the discussion and to continue to seek alternatives to long-term care.