For seniors contemplating the “big move” it can feel like they’re on a precipice — knowing they can’t continue the way things are now, but uncertain and overwhelmed by what might lie ahead. And the same is true for their adult children, who see what their parents are going through and only want the best, for their loved ones.
Recently, we sat down with Helen Grant to talk about her work with seniors, as well as her own experience with her mother, who lives at Cedar Springs PARC. With 16 years of experience selling homes on the North Shore, Helen is a valuable professional resource for anyone contemplating the transition to senior living, but she’s also a great source of insight and advice on helping a senior-aged parent make the move. She has witnessed first-hand the life-enriching benefits of having a parent make their home in an independent living community. She draws on all of this wisdom when helping her clients approach their next life step with confidence.
Q&A with Helen Grant
Q: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do on the North Shore.
A: My business partner, John McKenzie, and I specialize in senior clientele who are looking to downsize yet find the prospect daunting. We have a team of people we incorporate into our services to help make things as fluid and stress-free as possible.
Q: What have you noticed about seniors as they’re reaching that transition point and starting to consider senior living versus staying in their own home?
A: Seniors often begin to find home ownership difficult as they age. They realize their gutters need to be cleaned every year, the roof or balcony deck now needs repairing, and the basement is starting to leak. All of these maintenance types of issues are coming up as their home begins to age. Plus, they have to consider whether reconfiguring their space to maximize room and safety is possible as they become less mobile and capable of using stairs; for example; moving the washer and dryer up to the main floor, or creating a bedroom on the main floor. These changes are only a temporary solution to the real issue.
Q: What made you and your mother decide on senior living, and why Cedar Springs PARC?
A: My mother and I had a frank discussion, as I do with many other seniors, suggesting that she’s in a position now where she can make her own choices, but what happens when a decline in health gets in the way, and she is essentially forced to do things that she may not want to do? Right now, she can decide, so she needs to ask herself: is her home completely safe especially with her current health issues, and will it be safe for another three or four years? My mother also had to look at whether she was getting the nutrition needed in order to be healthy. And most importantly what is she doing to stay socially connected? The year my mother decided to move into Cedar Springs, two of her best friends passed away, and she just didn’t have that human interaction, which is so critical for health and well-being.
Q: How did you have that conversation with your mother? Did you start early?
A: Very early. One of the benefits of PARC is that they offer a trial-stay option, so it was easy to encourage my mother to do a test run of what life would be like at the residence. You can rent a completely furnished suite for a couple of nights or longer. That was the first thing that I did, getting her to physically experience a different environment. In addition, I took my mother on a tour through Cedar Springs and we had a complimentary lunch together in the dining room with other residents. We looked at some of the available suites, and talked about what furniture could be moved in. This tends to be a challenge for seniors, who think, “Oh my goodness, what do I do with my furniture? What can I take?” I’m pretty good at organizing spaces and knowing what will fit. And if their health ever does waiver, you want to make sure they could literally do a 360 degree turn in a walker or wheelchair. In other words—enough space. I never want my clients to crowd their suite with furniture.
Q: What advice would you give for approaching this type of conversation with a loved one?
A: It’s definitely not a single conversation. It’s a process and it takes time. When your parent says, “Oh, yeah, we’re eating just fine,” you need to check on that, and make sure that they really are, and take them to the doctor. Take note of any changes. Then, when you’re introducing a particular community, I think it’s all about feeling in touch. You need to take them and let them see the community and the people who are enjoying the lifestyle there. What I loved about Cedar Springs was there were great floor plans. There was also an opportunity to see some of the suites, to have a meal, to have someone take us through and talk about all of the activities, to meet other seniors who lived there. I mean right now, especially with COVID-19, we’re seeing so many seniors who have depression because they are so self-isolated. In independent living, they have peers, and lots of activities geared to their age group.
Q: What differences have you seen in your mother since she moved into Cedar Springs?
A: She is much healthier now and having great meals regularly. The structured exercise and activities provide a much healthier environment than she had living isolated at home. Also, if she wants a social cocktail, she has a lovely communal fireside area where she can sit down, have a glass of wine, and people join her for a friendly chat. She’s playing more bridge than she did at home, and she is going on afternoon walks with friends she has met there. I always look at Cedar Springs as kind of a stationary cruise ship – just without the seasickness! What a break for some of these people who have been working their whole lives, looking after their children and grandchildren. It’s perfect!
Q: Your mother moved in pre-COVID and is now living with us during COVID. There is an unfortunate misconception out there that all types of senior living are locked down. Have you had a chance to visit with your mom since the pandemic started?
A: Oh my gosh, absolutely. She just celebrated a birthday. We had a conversation with Chef Joseph, and he created a special lunch menu for her. We booked two tables of six out in the al fresco tent dining area. It was safe, and we didn’t need to walk through the building, putting others at risk. The dining staff met us outside and took us around the back to the outdoor garden. We washed our hands before entering the dining tent. It was fantastic.
A: We have also used the PARC Family Meetup Centre a couple of times. It’s kind of fun. We book a time, and then we have 45 minutes. She goes into one section, I go into another, and then we sit in front of the plexiglass and just have a conversation. I can even show her pictures and we have great chats. So, I haven’t really felt that my mother has been isolated during COVID. I think PARC has done everything they can to keep up interactions with family.
Q: Has your mother moving into PARC made a difference for you?
A: Yes, it’s almost stress-free. I arranged with the local pharmacy for her medications to be delivered. And, if she needs to see a doctor or an optometrist, PARC will drive her to the appointment and back. So I don’t have to be the taxi, but I’m certainly there if she needs me. It really helps to know that she has friends and she’s on the go. Sometimes it’s hard to even get in contact with her because she’s having so much fun and keeping so busy.
Q: If we have some readers out there who are close to a transition and need help, how do you approach it?
A: Well, as I mentioned before, I think it’s not just one conversation, but many over time. And it helps for the senior to know they have support. A realtor can be a support; someone to lean on who understands what they’re going through. This isn’t my first rodeo with people who are downsizing, so I can speak to almost every concern they might have. Some fears can easily be mitigated, and they’ll say to me, “Why was I so worried about that?” But this takes expertise. It takes someone who has been through it with many clients, as I have.
When it comes to selling a home, at the end of the day, the buyer is going to determine the price. As realtors, we’re going to try and list it at that sweet spot that will drive buyers to come and take a look. And we do our best to make sure your product is camera-ready. The rest takes care of itself.
Q: I like that you’ve already gone through this in your own personal life. I would definitely trust your expertise. Any last comments?
A: Sometimes I get people in their late 80s who say, “Helen, I want buy another condo.” I’m not in this for the money, so I’ll usually say, maybe that’s not the best idea. Instead, maybe you should reward yourself and think about independent living. I’m a firm believer that if you look after your clients, the rest will flow. So there have been many times that I’ve told my clients, “Look, buying another condo is not going to make you safer, or happier. Think about some other options instead.”
Interested in working with Helen, or want to learn more about senior-living options?
Helen and her partner John McKenzie are experts in senior living and downsizing. As a familiar and trusted face on the North Shore, she can walk you or your senior-aged parent through the process of downsizing, selling and making a smart move to a retirement community such as PARC.
Contact Helen at 604.802.4528, visit her website or drop by her office at the Westview Shopping Center REMAX.