6 Differences between Retirement Residences and Long Term Care Homes

Updated: Apr 30

Most of us have read news linking high percentages of COVID-19 fatalities to what is generally being referred to as “senior homes”. This has led many to believe that retirement communities and long term homes are the same, whereas the truth is that these two types of senior living situations couldn’t be more different from each other.


As you consider downsizing and residence options for yourself or a loved one, here is a guide to help you understand the important aspects of both and make a well-informed decision.

1. Care Support

Retirement residences are lifestyle communities, designed for people who would like to live an independent and active life, requiring minimal to moderate support with their daily living activities such as meals, housekeeping and some personal support services.

They provide safe, comfortable living that has a variety of shared activities which you can participate in as much or as little as you prefer. Think of a retirement community as your own apartment, albeit compact, that comes with a meal plan, additional support and recreational options.


Majority of retirement communities in Ontario have remained COVID19-free to date. In fact, since they can pivot at short notice - provide additional, critical training and enforce further protocols for communal safety - many would argue they are a much safer option than living in an independent apartment or your house.


Retirement communities in Ontario offer types of care services and they are follows:

  1. Independent Supported Living: a home-like environment with the option to add extra care services as needed.

  2. Assisted Living: a home-like environment with care services included in the service fee, such as dressing, bathing, grooming and medication. Additional services can be added.

  3. Specialized Care: supportive and safe environment for people with mild dementia, offering social, recreational, and fitness activities to live life to the fullest

  4. Short Term Stays: offered to seniors who’d like to experience what it’s like to live in a retirement home or for those discharged from the hospital and in need of extra support.

On the other hand, long-term care homes, sometimes called nursing homes, are a necessary choice for some older adults who require 24-hour nursing support to manage complex medical needs or advanced stages of dementia. Help with daily activities such as bathing and eating, for those who have difficulty directing their own care is provided.

2. Eligibility

The Retirement Homes Act (RHA) indicates a retirement home as a residence suitable primarily for persons who are 65 or older. Anyone can apply to live in a retirement community. The community would typically assess your medical and personal needs to ensure that they can provide the level of support required.

To apply or move to a retirement residence, you do not have to go through Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) or any other government agency. It is simply a lifestyle choice that several folks make.


Alternatively, as of 2010, only people with high to very high needs can apply and live at long-term care home in Ontario. The Government of Ontario directs the following eligibility criteria for anyone to live in a long term care home:

  • be age 18 or older

  • have a valid Ontario Health Insurance Program (OHIP) card

  • have care needs which cannot be safely met in the community through publicly-funded community-based services

3. Availability / Vacancy

Retirement residences accept and review inquiries as and when they receive them. You may be able to move into your private living quarters at the choice of your retirement community as early as within a week.


As of February, the wait list for long-stay beds at long-term care homes in Ontario was 34,834. About 40% of long term care homes in Ontario are small, with 96 or fewer beds, and majority beds are placed in wards which are shared with 2 to 3 other residents. Sadly and tragically, in the time of Covid-19, too many Long Term Care homes have been stricken with the forest fire that is this virus.

4. Privately Paid vs. Government Funded

Retirement residences in Ontario do not receive public funding and are fully paid for by the residents as monthly rent. The cost of living in a retirement community varies depending on the type of accommodation and care services required. In Ontario, the cost of a private residence in a retirement community ranges from $1,500 to $6,000 per month- or much more for some very high end communities.


Costs for medical and personal care at long term care homes in Ontario are covered by the government. Accommodation charges, such as room and board, are paid for by the resident. You can also apply for a government subsidy of up to $1,848.73 per month. The current prices have been published on Government of Ontario’s website.

5. Security and Independence

In a retirement community, residents can come and go as they please. There is 24-hour security and emergency response should they require assistance. Entrance to the building is monitored, and visitor entries and exits are recorded.

In long term care, many homes provide secure environments in order to keep seniors living with dementia safe when not accompanied outside of the residence by family or staff.

6. Moving in

Once you’ve finalized your choice of retirement residence, you are ready to take the next step: moving out of your present house and into your new home. Your move to the retirement residence can be planned and personalized by Gordon’s Downsizing and Estate Services Ltd. to meet your and your family’s needs most appropriately.


Gordon’s has helped over 2000 clients, across Ontario, to downsize their house, resettle at their new residence and sell their property. With an end-to-end expert support system of certified relocation specialists, professional advisors and licensed brokers working in lockstep in your best interest, your transition is handled at a pace you’re comfortable with and releases you of the unnecessary stresses.


Application and move to a long-term care home in Ontario are arranged by the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs). If you are interested in arranging care for yourself or a loved one in a long-term care home, you should start by following these steps.


If you’d like to know more about how Gordon’s can help you with your downsize and move to a retirement residence, call us at 1-800-267-2206 or leave a message here, and we will get back to you shortly. All first consultations with Gordon’s are free and no-obligation, and we offer no-upfront cost agreements valid for 1 year.


For further information about retirement living, read Breadcrumbs: A Guidebook and Strategies for Seniors by Amy Friesen.