Age and adaptability

Misericordia Terraces project fills need for assisted-living housing in Wolseley


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Todd Sykes sits forward in his chair, attention undivided from his mother Lydia, who rests in her wheelchair motionless and blank in expression.

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Todd Sykes sits forward in his chair, attention undivided from his mother Lydia, who rests in her wheelchair motionless and blank in expression.

“Hello, my darling,” Todd whispers as he strokes his mother’s cheek with the back of his hand, taking breaks to fix her hair.

Lydia grins and sheds a tear. She recognizes her son’s voice, even if she struggles to respond. Leslie Sykes, Todd’s father, sits on the sofa to Lydia’s right, comforting his wife of 66 years despite him being unsure of whether her dementia has erased him from her memory.

Leslie and Lydia, both 85, had lived together in their Wolseley home since 1959 when the teenagers married. But after Lydia’s dementia began to worsen in 2019, she was forced to leave her husband for full-time professional care.

“When Lydia came here, it was the first time (in my life) that I was in a house where somebody else wasn’t there,” Leslie said.

Lydia has since settled at Misericordia Place, the long-term care adjacent to Misericordia Health Centre. Their newfound distance hasn’t stopped Leslie from visiting his wife for lunch nearly every day, however.

“Dad comes and sees mom no matter what — no matter how cold or how crappy or whatever, he’s getting there,” said Todd, who makes the three-hour drive from Lake of the Woods to join his father a few times each week. “A lot of times we worry, just the stress of him trying to get to see mom. Like, you don’t need to be on the roads or you don’t need to take a cab.”

“But dad comes a lot and throughout the entire time mom’s been here and at the other place, dad was there. His mission is to look after mom.”

While Leslie is still spry, he recognizes he’s not getting any younger and may need his own assistance one day soon. In the spring, Todd submitted an application for his father to move to the Misericordia Terraces, a 10-story, 97-unit assisted-living complex expected to open next summer.

At first, Leslie wasn’t keen on the idea of leaving his lifelong residence with a big yard that backs onto the river, but he warmed up to the idea when he found out he’d be a short walk from his wife.

“I’m going to obviously get to the point where I’m going to need assistance, and with that new place, if I can get close to Lydia, that’d be great,” Leslie said.

“Planning for down the road,” Todd added. “And the fact that on days like this, where we’re minus-30, and we ask, ‘If dad’s there, can mom come over for lunch or for a visit through the skywalks and get there without going outside?’ Which is a big deal.”

In the past month, one of the development’s key features was installed: an overpass which connects the assisted living centre to the hospital on the other side of Wolseley Avenue. Another overpass will be installed across Sherbrook Street, connecting the health centre to the parkade and Misericordia Place.

Should he be accepted, Leslie already has the green light to bring his wife over to his apartment, where they will spend time together in a home once again.

“When we started this journey in terms of planning for what some of the needs were in the neighbourhood, it’s really understanding what the needs are for the community but then adapting and finding ways to meets those needs and to (provide) that affordable, assisted housing for older adults,” said Caroline DeKeyster, president and CEO of Misericordia Health Centre.

“The work is happening behind the windows, which is pretty exciting,” she added. “The project is coming along nicely. It’s more real, it’s more tangible.”

Six years removed from its ideation phase, the exterior envelope of the building is complete and work has moved inside, where suites are being outfitted for finishings. The project, which will offer 30 affordable units (pricing determined on a case-by-case basis), has received encouraging support since its announcement, including a $25.8 million investment from the federal government in 2021 to help with construction costs.

“This is a central location that people feel comfortable being in, but also comfortable knowing the history and the work that Misericordia has done over the years here providing services,” DeKeyster said.

“This is housing, it’s something different — it’s not health care — but it’s such a nice adjunct to the folks within the neighbourhood and for what the needs are for affordable housing.”

Being three hours away from his parents for most of the week, Todd is hopeful his dad is accepted into Misericordia Terraces, for his own peace of mind.

“I think it’ll be good for dad. And you worry about your dad. It’s the biggest worry in your life — how do you keep your parents comfortable?” he said.

“The fact that it connects for dad, and mom being here, what are the chances of that happening anywhere in the city? That’s a pretty good deal. He’s in a neighbourhood he’s comfortable with and knows people around it.”

Twitter: @jfreysam

Joshua Frey-Sam

Joshua Frey-Sam

Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.

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