Home4Good in Bayfield: ‘This is where my home and my life is’
A report prepared by the Home4Good Committee, January 2015
Who We Are
Home4Good is a recently-formed volunteer community group. Our goal is to learn about and respond to some of the challenges facing Bayfield-area residents who wish to remain here as they grow older. Our first project involved conducting interviews with volunteer participants to understand the barriers that may prevent people from remaining in their own homes, and to hear about things that might help people to stay in their homes or continue living in Bayfield once they leave their homes. In this report, we describe our findings. We invite members of the community to share their reactions and provide us with feedback. Based on what we learn through this process we intend to work with other organizations in the area as well as local service providers on initiatives that will help to make Bayfield an age-friendly community.
Home4Good Committee members are: Laura Armstrong (Huron County Health Unit), Leslie Bella, Tammie Dubé (Consultant to the Committee, OneCare Home and Community Support Services), Elise Feltrin (St. Andrews United Church), Helen Gianoulis (Corresponding member, Huron County Public Library), Barbara Hall (Corresponding member, Huron County Social and Property Services Department), Roma Harris, Michael Ibrahim, Grace Koehler, Roger Lewington, Arlene Timmins.
The Interview Project
In the late summer and early fall of 2014, members of the Home4Good committee conducted interviews with 19 current or recent residents from the Bayfield area. The purpose of the interviews was to learn about the challenges facing area residents who wish to stay in the community as they grow older. In particular, we wanted to learn about the barriers that may prevent seniors from remaining in their own homes, and to hear about things that might help people stay in their homes or continue to live in the community once they leave their homes. To prepare for the interviews, we acquainted ourselves with some of the resources available to seniors in the area, particularly those provided by OneCare, and we took information about these services with us to pass along to interested participants.
The sample of women and men who took part in the interviews included older individuals, ranging in age from 66 to 91, who live in the village, as well as those who live nearby to Bayfield but not within a walkable distance to its services. We also interviewed individuals who are considering leaving or have recently left Bayfield. The interviewees included people who live together in couples as well as single people and we also attempted to include people who have different levels of personal income. We recognize that the sample of participants is small and not necessarily representative of the whole community, nevertheless, we think our findings are useful in helping us to begin a dialogue with our neighbours about the challenges that face seniors who live in the area and what we might do to make Bayfield a more age-friendly community.
We thank the individuals who took part in the interviews. To protect their privacy we have not used their real names in this report.
I Don’t Want to Move
A dominant theme expressed in many of the interviews was the participants’ great love of Bayfield and, for most, their desire to stay in the community until the end of their lives. Ann, for example, is an active woman in her early 70s. She and her spouse are looking ahead and thinking about how they might stay on in Bayfield once their current property becomes too much for them to handle. She explained, ’we’ve made a big effort to make a life in the community and we don’t want to move elsewhere and have to start all over again’.
Richard is a widower in his mid-80s. He loves his home and wants to stay in Bayfield. He told the interviewer that he’d ‘sooner live in a tent in Bayfield than move’. He said he would love it if the community ‘had its own place; a place where you could go eventually for complete care that would be IN the village’. Like Ann, Richard emphasized the importance of the social connections he’s built in the community. He regularly visits the convenience store ‘coffee shop’ for morning get-togethers with other men from the community, some of whom he’s known for much of his life. As he explained it, ‘those little things are important things’.
Janet, a woman in her early 70s, told the interviewer,
‘We know we can’t keep up this place (house and garden) forever, and we want to make sure we do something (i.e., move to a more manageable property) before there’s any type of major health crisis’.
But for Janet and her spouse, as for others who took part in the interviews, the question is whether they’ll be able to find a suitable place to move in the village.
How Long Can I Stay?
Although the age of reckoning may vary, an important theme in many of the interviewees’ comments concerned the point at which they feel they will no longer be able to manage living in Bayfield.
Betty, a healthy and vibrant woman in her late 70s, has been living on her own since her husband died. She is very much aware that she may not be able to stay here indefinitely. As she explained,
‘I’ve been very, very happy here, but there’s no future here for a senior, senior citizen.’
Making a similar point, Norma, a woman in her mid-60s, commented,
‘Bayfield will be an interim stop for most people. It’ll be a retirement village but it won’t be the last stop.’
The factors involved in reaching the tipping point that prompts a move out of one’s home and/or to another community may vary, but the most frequently cited reasons for such decisions include: health problems, no longer being able to drive, loneliness, and not being able to manage the chores of maintaining a household, such as cooking, cleaning, gardening and snow shoveling.
Recently, Norma decided to leave the village. As she explained,
‘Leaving is bittersweet. I’m leaving some good friends and it gets harder when you get older but (because of my health) I can’t do what I did 6 years ago. It’s not easy being here as a single person, especially not a single woman’.
Norma sold her house and has moved to a larger community because there are more opportunities to see people. She has found a rental arrangement where:
‘at least someone will know I’m alive every day. That just didn’t happen here. I could have fallen down and broken a hip and no one would ever know about it.’
For Norma, overcoming loneliness and social isolation was a key motive in her decision to move. As she explained,
‘I don’t mind being alone, but sometimes you feel REALLY alone. Bayfield is a holiday village, but I’m not on holidays. Where I’m going, every day I’ll have somebody to talk to’.
Although she has no plans to move, Betty, too, is concerned about loneliness. She told the interviewer:
‘I would like to have a human being in my house. Sometimes I’m a little scared by my aloneness. If I have an ache or pain, my imagination can take me to the emergency department.’
Eleanor is in her late 80s and she, too, has recently sold her home and moved away from the Bayfield area. She’d had several falls and, given her health issues and lack of mobility, she could not manage on her own, especially as she lived some distance outside the village. She felt she had little choice but to move away because there are no nursing home facilities available here. She misses her connections in Bayfield.
Mary, a widow in her early 80s, has also sold her home recently and moved away to another community. She was unable to keep up with the maintenance on her home after her husband died and found her house too large. Because there were no appropriate and affordable rental options available, she felt she had no choice but to leave the village even though she would have preferred to stay in Bayfield. She was very sad to leave because, as she put it, ‘this is where my home and my life is’.
Marlene is a widow in her late 80s who lives alone in a house in the village. She would like to stay in her home as long as she can manage but is concerned about what will happen if she can no longer drive because ‘it will change everything’. She’s considering retirement homes in other communities nearby to where her children live. She would miss living in Bayfield because ‘it’s a pretty place’ and has been ‘home’ for many years.
Wanda, aged 83, is a widow who lives alone in a house located beyond walking distance from the village. She is selling her home because she finds it too expensive to keep up and the maintenance is becoming too much for her. She doesn’t have as much energy as she used to and finds it difficult to eat properly. She would like to live in a place that she can rent (she doesn’t want to own property again), where her meals are prepared for her, and ‘where there is a community meeting place’. She has several children, whom she loves, but she doesn’t want to live with them. She’s not sure where she’ll be going.
Creating an Age-Friendly Community in Bayfield
What can be done to help Bayfielders like Wanda, Marlene, Richard and Betty to continue living in the community as they grow older? For some insights, we asked the interview participants to describe what they see as the biggest challenges to successful ‘in-place’ aging in Bayfield and to share their ideas about what’s needed to address these challenges.
One of the most frequently cited barriers to remaining in Bayfield as an older senior is the lack transportation options for people who are not able to drive. Norma put it bluntly when she told the interviewer,
‘if you don’t have a car here, you’re pretty well doomed. If you couldn’t drive, I don’t know what you’d do here’.
According to Daphne, age 72,
‘If you don’t drive you are going to have to go somewhere like Stratford or London where there is public transportation’.
Not being able to drive means that having access to services that are within walking distance becomes very important. As a number of the interviewees pointed out, the new Foodland and LCBO stores are nice, but their new location is not easily accessible by those who need (or wish) to walk or cycle. In addition, alternative transportation options to other centers are needed because there is no local bank, doctor or dentist in the village.
The interviewees’ recommendations for dealing with the problem include the following (please note that not everyone we interviewed was aware of the transportation services provided by OneCare):
- A shuttle service to Goderich and Clinton
- A bus or van that goes to London or Goderich
- A taxi service located in Bayfield
- According to 77-year old Sally, who often helps out her neighbours by driving them where they need to go, ‘the cancer driver system has got it right’. She thinks an informal network of drivers would be invaluable, enabling seniors (especially those for whom the OneCare shuttle is too expensive) to do their grocery shopping and errands without having to rely on friends or over use the good will of others. She suggests that this service could coordinated through a central agency for a nominal fee.
- In Fred’s opinion, ‘the best solution is individual transport services which are easily available, which means, roughly, having someone available to drive you around. Presumably, if that was going to work in some cost-effective way it would have to be combined transport where someone is picking up two or three people to go somewhere – something you could do fairly frequently without a huge cost’. Fred, who is in his early 80s, told the interviewer that he’s ‘no longer keen’ to drive on the 401. He and his wife pay someone to drive their car for them when they need to travel longer distances, for example, to the airport in Toronto.
One of the most significant barriers facing older people who wish to remain living in Bayfield is the lack of alternative housing options. As previously noted, several of the interviewees said that while they would prefer to stay in the community, they’ve been unable to find suitable housing that meets their needs because there are few affordable places to rent, no apartments available, and the smaller or more manageable properties that are available, such as condos, are too large and/or too far away from village services. According to Norma,
‘There are no apartments. Most people in their 60s don’t want to spend $300K on a condo. I don’t need that much space and (what’s available) is not really designed for singles. .. There’s no plan, developers keep building large projects. Who will live in them in 10 years?’
The interviewees’ suggestions for dealing with the problem include two general strategies:
- creating the conditions that make it possible to continue living independently
- creating access to a seniors’ communal living space in the village.
- Supporting Independent Living. The interviewees explained that older seniors who want to live independently, in their own homes, often require alterations to their current living spaces or access to more appropriate housing alternatives, as well as supports for transportation, shopping, food preparation, cleaning, property maintenance, access to services, and to maintain social connections. Their suggestions for addressing these needs included:
Suggestions regarding housing for independent senior living:
- Locating programs to help people retrofit their homes to make them more accessible
- Initiating zoning changes to allow conversions of homes to include live-in suites
- Increasing availability of small houses or rental units in the village that are within walking distance of services
Suggestions for help with property maintenance
- Creating a local volunteer base. Janet suggested that it could include ‘a volunteer carpenter, social worker, electrician who will come in and help with little jobs – someone to talk to, someone to change a light bulb, fix a door knob .. simple things that don’t need a professional to do a paid job’
- Developing a roster or ‘vetted’ list of reliable people who will do cleaning, yard work and snow removal for a reasonable price. As Daphne said, ‘I couldn’t see myself staying here on my own because my husband does so much outside in the garden and so forth and I do none of that .. it’s the little things – the maintenance. If I were to stay in this house on my own it would be lovely to have some handy people you could call on.’
Suggestions to help with food preparation
- A community cooking program
- Grocery delivery
- Meal delivery (note that not everyone was aware of OneCare’s meal delivery program)
Suggestions for improving access to local services
- Bringing a seniors’ foot care clinic to Bayfield
- Creating a local laundry service
- Reinstating a local bank. As Janet explained, even though she banks online (not something that all the interviewees embrace) ‘when I start to lose it, I’ll need some local connection to do my banking’
- Allowing the use of golf carts around the village
- Creating a ‘back way’ path to the Foodland and LCBO plaza (for walking, biking, or taking a golf cart)
Suggestions for Staying Connected and Avoiding Social isolation
Mary emphasized that opportunities for visiting are very important because ‘people want to stay connected’. But for many seniors, maintaining social connections becomes increasingly difficult, particularly during the winter months. Access to communal meeting spaces that are open year-round was mentioned by a number of the interviews. One suggestion was to:
- Open a Tim Horton’s where, according to Sally, ‘seniors would be comfortable going in by themselves and always see someone they know and could chat with – it keeps people connected and is not elitist, where older people could stay all day and no one would make them feel like they’re being a nuisance’.
- Supporting Older Seniors Who Don’t Wish to Live on Their Own. For local residents who are unable to maintain their own properties (or no longer wish to) finding suitable housing arrangements in Bayfield is very difficult. For instance, Mary wanted to stay in Bayfield, but she couldn’t find the housing she needed. She has moved to another town where she lives in a rented apartment. She told the interviewer that while she misses her community in Bayfield, she loves her new living space because it’s affordable, easy to manage because it’s on one floor, and it has a walkout to a garden, as well as access to a communal living space. In describing what they would like to see in communal living arrangements for seniors in Bayfield many of the interviewees mentioned features similar to those Mary enjoys in her new home.
Recommended Features in Housing for Seniors
- Single floor design
- Smaller units
- Affordable rental spaces
- Permission to keep pets (for many older people, having a pet is very important to offset loneliness and a good motivator to stay active)
- Access to green space, gardens and/or patios. Many of the interviewers have been keen gardeners and would like to maintain this aspect of their lives in their new homes. As Norma said, ‘I can’t maintain my garden anymore. I have to pay someone. I’d love a little patio with a few pots’
- Housing dedicated to seniors. As Cathy explained, ‘if there was a senior’s apartment building in Bayfield, we would have gone there. You don’t have the same level of activity as you get older and you don’t want that distraction (noise from children and grandchildren) as you get older. At least we don’t, we like the silence’.
- Proximity to the village. Richard told the interviewer that he wished that the ‘fairground’ had been expropriated and the Mews built there instead of its current location outside the village. A location that allows for easy access to stores and restaurants is very important, some of which function like small community centers. For Bill, age 84, ‘the Albion is a friendly place. I go there occasionally, I eat there too, sometimes get takeout food from there. It’s pretty handy and that is quite useful.’
When there is no one: Access to Trusted Advocates
A number of the people we interviewed discussed the problem of failing physical and/or mental capacity that requires the assistance of an advocate, especially in situations in which older seniors have no children or other family members to take on these roles as is the case for quite a number of people who have chosen to retire in Bayfield from elsewhere. According to Daphne, ‘there are lot of us who have neither kith nor kin’.
Suggestions for Creating an Advocacy System for Older Seniors
- Volunteers to accompany seniors to medical appointments. According to Fred, ‘people who are pretty well on their own really need someone to go to their medical appointments with them because they may or may not fully understand what they are being told by their doctor. They are insufficient advocates for themselves. It really helps to have someone there who is taking notes.’
- A buddy check-in program. As Daphne noted, for ‘people who are on their own with no family, it would be nice to know that there is someone to check on them every day’ or a system where people check on each other.
- Looking out for one another. For Fred, ‘a key element is to assure people who find themselves with a shrinking number of people in their lives who .. care for them that .. there is an organization or some kind of group in the community that would make sure they are looked after somehow. That cuts to the bone for some people. There are things like public trustees, but who knows who the hell they are and to what extent they have your best interests at heart.’
There is much to be learned from the experiences of residents who have been successful in putting together arrangements that allow them to continue living in Bayfield as they grow older. For instance, Helen, a widow in her late 80s, is a great example of someone who has developing a support system that allows her to live independently, enjoy her life and continue her participation in village activities. Helen rents a small, single-story house in the village, does her own grocery shopping and cooking, and pays for a cleaner who helps her with the larger jobs around the house as well as someone to do yard work and shovel the snow. She has a dog who provides her with companionship and keeps her moving because he needs regular walks. She feels secure living on her own because she and a friend have had a buddy system in place for several years. They call one another every morning to check in and make sure everything is all right.
Marlene, who is 89, has also been successful in continuing to live on her own even though, like Helen, she has no immediate family in Bayfield. Marlene has used some of the services of OneCare, such as a driver to take her to medical appointments and to have frozen meals delivered (she’s been impressed with their quality and price). She also has help from women who help with heavy cleaning twice a year (big jobs that she couldn’t manage on her own), and she has a neighbour who cuts her grass and does snow removal, and another who checks in on her. She’s also had groceries delivered and she appreciates the services she receives from Michael’s pharmacy.
Richard, also in his late 80s, is managing to stay on in his own home because he, too, has a sturdy social network. One of his children, who lives near the village, provides him with regular meals. He pays a cleaner to come in once a month. One of his neighbours helps him with the garden and he has a friend who helps him with chores like painting and pressure washing.
Helen, Marlene and Richard’s success in independent living well into their 80s is enabled because they have accommodation of a type and location in the village that works well for them and each has worked to maintain strong social connections in the community. Each of them clearly benefits by having access to friends and neighbours who help them with tasks they are no longer able to carry out on their own. In addition, these interviewees have sufficient means to afford the purchase of additional support, whether for meal delivery, transportation, cleaning and/or gardening services.
Noteworthy among these participants’ comments were references to the support they receive through their involvement with others in the community. Overall, we had the impression that interviewees who are connected to others through their membership in church congregation or other social groups, like the local bridge club, historical society, or book clubs, and/or who participate regularly in local events, meetings or programs, such as the diner’s club, appear to more resilient when dealing with the challenges that come with aging. They have more access to a sense of ‘care’ from and for others, and have greater capacity to cope because others around them notice when they are in need and, when necessary, step in to help.
What Have we Learned? Take-Away Messages
There are a few central themes that stand out from the interviews from which Home4Good might take some direction for future action.
Housing, Transportation and Access to Services. It is clear from the interviews that older seniors in the Bayfield area would like to stay on in the community, however, they may be prevented from doing so because of a lack of appropriate housing, transportation and access to the services necessary to support everyday living. Addressing these issues is key to making Bayfield a community in which older citizens can expect to ‘age in place.’ The most pressing needs are for:
- appropriate seniors’ housing in the village
- supports for independent living, including food preparation and property maintenance in the form of gardening, cleaning, repairs and snow-clearing
- assistance with transportation
- increasing accessibility by making Bayfield more walkable, less car-reliant
Staying Active, Keeping Connected. The interviews revealed that a key aspect of successful aging in place is helping older seniors to build and maintain social connections. As Sally explained, to live in Bayfield as a senior it is ‘absolutely necessary’ that everyone helps one another, checking on each other when sick, watching out for one another, being a real community, sharing chores like driving and heavy cleaning. Fortunately, the interviews provided strong evidence that there is a willingness on the part of many people in Bayfield to provide this support to one another. As Bill observed, ‘people here are very good with helping people .. I know people who regularly take an old person out on certain days’. The interviews suggest that there may be considerable valuable in tapping into this goodwill in order to create a more coordinated system of volunteer help-giving to ensure that everyone who needs it, particularly those without friends and family to look out for them, have access to support and care. The most pressing needs are for:
- access to a daily buddy check-in system
- access to advocates to help seniors navigate with systems such as health care and banking
- supports to help seniors avoid social isolation by staying connected with others and taking part in community activities