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Seniors housing terminology baffles most

Most Albertans say there is a need to clarify, reduce and simplify the terms used to describe seniors housing, according to a survey conducted last summer by the Alberta Seniors Communities and Housing Association (ASCHA).

Most Albertans say there is a need to clarify, reduce and simplify the terms used to describe seniors housing, according to a survey conducted last summer by the Alberta Seniors Communities and Housing Association (ASCHA).

Seventy-one per cent out of 1,187 respondents -- including those living and working in the seniors housing sector -- wanted simpler, more descriptive language.

Not only did respondents call for clearer terminology but others were also concerned whether their needs would be met after choosing a seniors housing facility.

The report concluded that seniors and their families want expectations to be clearly set out regardless of the type or category of seniors housing.

Just reading the report reveals the confusing range of terms currently in use: assisted living; supportive living; designated supportive living or designated assisted living; permanent supportive housing; long term care; continuing care; aging in place; aging in community; congregate living and memory care.

“ASCHA receives numerous calls each month from frustrated seniors and family members attempting to navigate the confusing terminology as they look for housing options,” the report explained.

In some cases, confusion over terminology was not just noted among the general public but also among those working in the seniors housing industry.

In one scenario, respondents were asked to choose the best term to describe a situation where a couple in their late 60s lived in a high rise and received housekeeping and one meal a day. The expected or correct response was: seniors housing with hospitality services.

Among those who work in seniors housing, 24 per cent described this as a senior’s lodge, 15 per cent described it as supportive living and 11 per cent said it was assisted living.

“Even among respondents who should have a high degree of confidence with industry terms (those who live or work in seniors housing), response rates for the top response were only between 13 per cent and 20 per cent,” the report noted. “This points to a major issue with consistent understanding and interpretation.”

Irene Martin-Lindsay, ASCHA’s executive director, says the results suggest that different sub-groups within the industry (government, Alberta Health Services, seniors housing staff) use different terminology internally compared to terms used by other sub-groups.

For example, government staff are more likely to use terms outlined in the Supportive Living Accommodation Licensing Act than others outside of government.

ASCHA suggests confusion and inconsistency in terminology has resulted from factors such as:

  • Provincial government legislation that sets out the terms to be used
  • Marketing materials from private, public and not-for-profit housing providers
  • Terms that come from changes or enhancements to programs in other provinces or countries
  • The inclination for housing and services to be called one thing at referral and something different when the service is provided.

Donna Durand, the executive director of the Alberta Council on Aging, welcomes changes to seniors housing terminology but says maintaining a consistent level of care is even more important.

“Seniors desire to live in a place appropriate to their circumstances,” says Durand. “Seniors need to be able to navigate the housing system but once they get there the standards need to be in place and maintained,” she says.

ASCHA’s Martin-Lindsay says the next step is to hold public focus group sessions in January to help develop new or simpler terminology before presenting the proposed new terms to key stakeholders.

“We are taking the survey’s findings and we are going to do something about it for Albertans,” says Martin-Lindsay.

To share your story or ideas visit www.ascha.com/advocacy_cuttheclutter.php