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Retirement Home vs. Long-Term Care by Province

Kimberley Fowler
By Kimberley FowlerDecember 9, 2015

Navigating senior care options can be difficult, especially considering the different terminology used across the country. It’s important for families to understand the difference between retirement communities (also referred to as retirement homes) and long term care communities (which used to be called nursing homes).

Learn more about retirement home vs. long-term care by province.

Privately Operated Retirement Communities: You Pay the Rent

Although there are some exceptions, across Canada retirement communities are often privately run communities where the senior or their family pay rent (and sometimes other fees) to live in the community and receive personalized care. There are different types of retirement communities available and seniors and their families should choose a community based on the senior’s health, level of independence, medical needs and preferred lifestyle.

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Across Canada you will find:

  1. Active Adult Communities: Geared to active adults who are 55 years or older. These all-in-one communities are often gated communities of detached or semi-detached homes or condo style buildings. Yard work, snow removal, cutting grass, etc… is usually completed for the senior and there are amenities offered like a golf course, swimming pool and exercise room. These communities usually have a social committee with planned activities for the community to participate in.
  2. Independent Living Communities: These communities typically offer an additional level of care than active adult communities and are often (but not always) a senior apartment, condo or townhome complex. These communities are for seniors who are self-sufficient, active and are looking for a few services that will help them continue to live independently like optional meals, laundry and transportation. These communities usually provide amenities for seniors at risk of a fall like handrails, pull cords and alert necklaces. Staff are usually on site during the day to coordinate social activities and many communities have amenities like a pool, workout room, movie theater, library and games room.
  3. Assisted Living Communities: Offered as an additional level of care apart from independent living communities are assisted living communities. Designed for seniors who need some assistance, these communities often have a nursing staff on site and a doctor who will visit residents.  These communities are for seniors who can live on their own, but do need help with mobility, housekeeping, meals, laundry, bathing and dressing and taking medication. Most assisted living residences have apartment style suites, amenities like a pool, exercise room, library, game room and even a movie theatre. Staff are on site, sometimes 24-7 and coordinate social activities as well as opportunities to focus on physical, social and mental health.
  4. Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Communities: These communities are designed for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia who need attentive, specialized care. Staff specialize in treatment of the disease and the communities are designed to keep seniors safe while providing them with specialized therapy (like music and art therapy) that will help with their cognitive abilities.

Long-Term Care Communities Funded by Province

Designed for seniors who need care 24/7, long-term care communities are available for eligible seniors. Social service agencies assess senior needs and determine eligibility. Unlike retirement communities, long-term care communities are funded by the province. Provinces fund medical and support services and residents pay for their room and board. No one is refused access on the ability to pay and subsidies are available for seniors and their families who cannot pay the full room and board fees.

Long-term care communities are operated by a number of groups, including:

  • Private organizations
  • Provinces
  • Municipalities
  • Non-profit and charitable organizations

Long-term care communities are similar to assisted living communities, although they are equipped to care for seniors with more serious health issues. Personal and 24-hour nursing care is provided, as well as access to doctors and other health care providers. Living arrangements can vary from shared ward-style rooms to private rooms, depending on availability and affordability. Support and care is available for seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Like other communities for seniors, recreational activities are planned and similar to an assisted living community there are often central dining rooms or shared common rooms. Housekeeping and laundry are available.

Long-term care usually offers fewer amenities than the retirement community types mentioned above. For example, most do not have swimming pools, libraries or exercise rooms. Funding is one reason for the fewer amenities, but also most seniors do not have the mobility required to take advantage of them.

Home Care Subsidized in Some Provinces

Home care is another option for seniors that is sometimes subsidized by the province. Home care allows seniors to age-in-place in their home and communities by providing a nurse or personal care worker who comes to visit and help the senior with a variety of tasks from taking medication, bathing and personal care to shopping, cleaning and cooking.

Provincial Information and Resources

All provinces regulate long-term care and retirement communities. During your search for a retirement community, long-term care or home care provider, you should familiarize yourself with the following organizations in your province:


Alberta Seniors Communities & Housing Association

Ministry of Health

Alberta Health Services 

Alberta Seniors (Information on seniors programs, subsidies and housing.)

British Columbia

BC Seniors Living Association (Identifies retirement communities that adhere to the highest industry standards.)

BC Housing for Seniors

PharmaCare for BC Residents

Senior Care Options and Costs

BC Senior’s Guide 


Manitoba Home Care Program (Manitoba has the longest standing and most comprehensive provincial home care program in Canada. Manitoba’s Home Care Program helps seniors who are living at home or living in a retirement community. Seniors who are eligible may receive subsidized or free home care services.)

Manitoba Health, Healthy Living and Seniors

Personal Care Services Rate Manual

New Brunswick

Nursing Home Services

Home First Program 

Senior’s Guide to Services and Programs

Long-term Care Services

Newfoundland and Labrador

Department of Health and Community Services for Seniors

Northwest Territories

Long-Term Care Information 

Nova Scotia

Long-Term Care

Palliative Home Care

Dementia Strategy

Seniors Pharmacare Program

Continuing Care Fact Sheet


Home and Community Care


Home, Community and Residential Care Services

Home and Community Care

Long-Term Care Homes

Temporary Respite Care for Caregivers 

Ontario Retirement Communities Association

Ontario Society (Coalition) of Senior Citizens’ Organizations

AdvAntage Ontario

Prince Edward Island

Community Care Facilities and Nursing Homes

Long-Term Care

Long-Term Care Fact Sheet


All Quebec Retirement Communities must:

  • Register with the Registry of Residences for the Elderly
  • Hold a Certificate of Compliance that must be re-certified every 2 years

Programs and Services for Seniors

Home Care Support Services

Long-Term Care


Saskatoon Council on Aging

Seniors Services

Life Lease Housing

Personal Care Homes and Personal Care Home Benefit


Continuing Care

Guide to Programs and Services for Yukon Seniors and Elders

What was your family’s experience like choosing a retirement home or long-term care? Share stories about your experiences with us in the comments below.

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Kimberley Fowler
Kimberley Fowler
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