The Future of Senior Living
Canada ICI is excited to profile Optima Living, the team behind Aster Gardens, a project that Canada ICI helped finance. Aster Gardens, in Sherwood Park Alberta, is named after the Aster flower that is native to Alberta and that blooms in the latter part of life. If you were to tour the company’s communities or meet any of Optima Living’s staff, you’d immediately recognize that Optima Living is driven by the belief that they have a responsibility to provide fertile ground in which seniors can thrive, grow, and bloom later in their season, just like the Aster.
Optima Living operates several independent assisted and supportive living communities throughout Western Canada. One of these communities is Aster Gardens. We had a chance to sit down with Karim Kassam, the Co-Founder and Principal at Optima Living to get the background on this important regional project that will positively impact seniors’ lives for years to come and why in a post-COVID era, the need for high-quality operators is essential.
The Fastest Growing Demographic in Canada
In the next 20 years, Canadian seniors will number over 9.5 million and make up 23 percent of Canada’s population. By 2036, the average life expectancy for women is expected to rise to 86.2 years from the current 84.2 and to 82.9 years from 80 for men living today. When it comes to quality senior living accommodations, the need is great, and the waitlists are much too long.
Karim discussed the culture shift required for Canadians to successfully meet the demands of the “hockey stick” growth curve on which Canada is just now on the cusp. More than ever, private and public operators need to work alongside developers, financiers, and healthcare organizations to deliver the best possible senior living environments, or in the words of Karim, fertile ground in which seniors can bloom and live their best lives. Optima Living is working hard to ensure that our senior population’s later years will feel at home in any of its residences.
Optima Living aims to deliver the best possible senior living environments; fertile ground in which seniors can bloom and live their best lives
Stepping Up to the Challenge
Technology, Design, Collaboration, and Purpose
Optima Living has developed some strategies to improve the quality and availability of senior living in Canada and they hope that others in the industry follow the company’s lead. By leveraging technology, Optima Living aims to provide safety and well-being to the seniors it serves. Optima has invested in several beneficial technologies including Radio Frequency Identification or RFID bracelets that allow seniors to access areas without touching any surfaces. These bracelets also alert care workers to emergencies such as falls or the inability to find a way back home.
Another example of Optima Living’s innovation and commitment is its re-thinking of the design of our seniors’ physical environments. Karim spoke about how traditional senior homes are designed with wings of rooms surrounding a main dining hall and how the dining hall is sometimes the only flex space. In these environments, there is little to explore, and the emphasis of the floorplan is on efficiency rather than on resident engagement. In contrast, at Aster Gardens you’ll find creative and social spaces on every floor, suitable to socialites and contemplatives alike. Art, study, and pub spaces all encourage participation in activities that engage the mind and spirit. At Aster Gardens, these spaces contribute to the evolution of senior living.
Beneath all of Optima Living’s proactive strategies is an underlying mission statement: take care of the senior and everything else takes care of itself.
During our discussion, Karim emphasized how partnership and collaboration are required to develop the best possible futures for senior Canadians. Optima has partnered with research institutions including the University of Alberta and the University of Manitoba to find and implement research-backed best practices in senior care and senior living. The biomedical engineering department at the University of Manitoba will provide Optima Living residents access to an application called “Mind Triggers” which helps keep minds sharp with cognitive exercises. Optima has partnered with other institutions involved in cutting-edge research that focuses on the mental and physical well-being of seniors.
Beneath all of Optima Living’s proactive strategies is an underlying mission statement: take care of the senior and everything else takes care of itself. Optima’s growth is a testament to its prioritization of the senior customers’ needs. Optima Living doesn’t view senior living as providing a space in which to live out the last days of life. Optima sees senior living through a different lens. Optima is committed to providing the best possible environment and communities that support seniors and make their later years their very best years. The best-life experience becomes possible when public and private operators, along with developers, collaborate to achieve a higher standard for senior care – a model that Optima Living has already established.
Real Estate and Senior Living
Canada ICI understands the importance of senior living as an asset class and real estate vertical. Working with progressive and forward-thinking developers and operators such as Optima Living has given CICI insight into the nuances around delivering senior living options for the future. Real estate investors need to note the subtleties of senior living and choose the right developer and operator to make it a viable area for investment. There are a broad range of offerings in both the public and private sectors. And there’s also a broad range of services offered by different senior living residences. Some facilities provide simple rooms and dining, while others build entire communities and integrate them within the greater neighbourhood such as Aster Gardens has done in Sherwood Park, Alberta.
The barriers to entry in this real estate space are significant. It takes a lot of work, development, and certification to enter the senior living market because it is highly regulated. “The regulations are stricter than in hospitality for example,” says Karim. In the end, that can have a significantly positive impact. Senior living projects can offer long-term sustainable investments for investors when working with a partner like Optima Living that has surpassed the requirements and embraced innovation, creativity, and collaboration. For Canada ICI, working with Optima Living has been gratifying. Effective partnerships like this one have a positive impact on the future of senior living in different regions of Canada and help create stronger, more cohesive communities.
For Canada ICI, working with Optima Living has been gratifying. Effective partnerships like this one have a positive impact on the future of seniors living in Canada
A Close Eye on Senior Living
The writing of this piece comes at a challenging time for senior home providers and developers. Karim says that safety and security are the most critical areas of focus right now. He describes this time as a litmus test. “If we can keep people safe and healthy during a pandemic, then we’ve shown Canadians that we can do so in any circumstance.” Follow Optima Living and Aster Gardens to see their latest innovations for keeping seniors engaged while keeping them safe.
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