Nearly 15% of Canadians age 65 and older live with a cognitive impairment.  The risks of being diagnosed with dementia increase substantially with age, doubling every five years for those over age 65[1].  Families often try to keep their loved one at home for as long as possible, sometimes dealing with substantial caregiving demands.  One aspect of dementia not well understood is that the individual may appear to be healthy even though they are experiencing cognitive declines This means that the person may be physically able to undertake various activities but sometimes these are accompanied by behavioural issues that can be very challenging.

A while back I heard a story about an older married couple who were asked to leave their residence because neighbours were disturbed by the behaviour of one of the spouses – a senior citizen in the later stages of dementia.  The neighbourhood was a retirement-age life-lease community[2].  We need to recognize that in an aging society such as ours, these types of situations are likely to occur with increasing frequency.  For those who may be selecting a new home there needs to be some consideration given to the community’s flexibility in dealing with these issues.

Making sure you are choosing the right home for your changing needs

Older adults in the process of considering a move should clarify community rules with their lawyer.  Do not expect a lawyer handling the property purchase to have knowledge in this area.  This is new territory for many communities including condominium and strata groups, retirement communities and lease-hold arrangements.  Questions you need to ask before signing an offer to purchase, lease or rent include:

  1. Are there behaviour rules for the community, and if so, how are they enforced?  (Review written rules.)
  2. How are rule changes introduced and approved?  (If there is a property management board of directors or some other group in a position of authority, determine how recommendations are tabled, discussed and approved.  Determine if it is easy for a disgruntled neighbour to create a new rule that could put you at risk of losing your home).
  3. Are there exceptions to the behaviour rules such as health-related changes, confirmed by a physician’s reports?  (Changes due to diseases such as dementia can include some socially unacceptable behaviours)
  4. How may warnings will be issued before there is an official request to vacate?
  5. How much time is allowed after being issued an official request to leave before you must vacate the premise?
  6. Is there a process to challenge these outcomes?  (Bear in mind that the person or family receiving the notices may be unable to ‘fight back’ due to all sorts of stressors including health problems, fatigue, and finances issues.)

Our aging Canadian society is providing us with an opportunity to provide the best environment for those most vulnerable as well as their loved ones.  Individuals with dementia, families and informal caregivers need our support – not our judgement.


*photo from Geralt via Pixabay