Graham Earle and his wife Sigrid lived two streets over from The Village of Humber Heights in Etobicoke for many years, but it wasn’t until illness struck and progressed that he truly thought about what a retirement home offered or what long-term care was all about.
Sigrid was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2004 and Graham supported her at home for seven years until they realized she needed more than he alone could offer. She moved into the Humber Heights memory care retirement neighbourhood at that point, with the intention of eventually moving into long-term care, which happened 18 months later. She’s been in the same room ever since, and while it may sound strange to hear the word successful attached to such a situation, that’s the word Graham uses.
“It may sound curious to say successful,” he says, “but it is a fact. She’s not only being well cared for . . . but she opened up. She became social, she became the favourite and others were her favourite.
“Metaphorically, she opened her arms and physically she opened her arms.”
Graham admits he had preconceived negative notions of “old age” homes before Humber Heights – “biases through ignorance,” as he puts it – but he quickly changed his perceptions. He quickly grew to admire the team members that cared for his wife and “I would find myself whistling coming in here to visit,” he says.
He was an active man in his 80s, cycling in the warm weather and cross-country skiing when the winter hit, but that quickly changed in late 2017 when he was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, which hit him hard and quickly, sapping away most of his energy and mobility. In those early days, knowing his care needs would be vast, his thoughts quickly turned to Humber Heights. With the help of his daughters he made the move to the retirement neighbourhoods and before long, was in a room near Sigrid on the LTC side of the Village. To say it felt like home in a Village he’d grown so accustomed to would be false, he says, “because home had become impossible.”
Yet he was comfortable, and the relationship he had with the team went a long way towards helping him rediscover his strength as his medical treatments carried their positive effects. He began to exercise alongside the Village’s kinesiologist in the Program for Active Living, and within a year he was walking on his own again. In the late summer of 2019 as he shares his story, it’s like he’s back to his old self.
“When I entered long-term care, I was flat on my back,” Graham says. “I couldn’t even transfer.”
Now he lives down the other end of Main Street in the Becker neighbourhood, completely independent once again. He understands that things could change at any time, however, but he finds comfort in knowing if that happens, he can easily transition to a neighbourhood within the Village that can support his needs, no matter the complexity.
“I want to be in a situation where I’d be happy with the people around me to deal with any situation,” he says, and the people at Humber Heights and the relationships that bloom between resident and team member are what sets The Village apart from its competition.
“The relationship between the residents and the staff, for lack of a better word, is an affectionate one,” he says. “It’s hard to articulate and difficult to capture in words, but the vast majority of the staff here are happy with what they do and that’s great.”