Ever since she was a teenager, Ashley Kwong knew she wanted to open her own seniors’ home. Now, almost two decades later, her dream is finally becoming a reality.
Kwong is launching Memory & Company this spring — and she’s touting the Markham facility as Canada’s first private Alzheimer’s program.
“We’re taking what a lot of the upscale retirement homes offer and offering it as a day program,” says Kwong, who studied gerontology at both McMaster University and George Brown College.
Kwong says Memory & Company will have a spalike feel, with well-lit rooms, secured outdoor spaces and programming such as music therapy, gardening and yoga. There will be a five-to-one staffing ratio and an on-site nurse at their facility on Renfrew Drive.
Costs, which range from $100 per day for basic care to $150 for those with more advanced Alzheimer’s, are on a par with many long-term care facilities and retirement homes. While more expensive than many day programs, Memory & Company will offer a different type of experience, catered specifically to the needs of people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, Kwong says.
Clients will be free to roam the health club’s 11,000-square-foot space with a circular design to decrease their dementia-related agitation while wandering through the rooms. Clients will also have access to a salon, gym, dance studio and hydrotherapy spa, alongside outside services like massages and physiotherapy.
In other words, the atmosphere will be less clinical, more country club.
“We’re also using iPad technology to provide more individualized care, instead of planning the whole program for the month and not caring what people are in the building,” Kwong says. “It’s a different approach than the assembly style of day programs right now.”
Kwong, 34, is launching Memory & Company with her husband Victor Kwong, a public and media relations officer with Toronto Police. She says she has seen her fair share of subpar programs over her 17 years of working with seniors.
During a co-op placement as a teenager, Kwong met personal support workers who weren’t educated on handling people with dementia. She later worked in a long-term care facility that had no air conditioning in the heat of summer. “(Residents) were left stripping themselves naked,” she recalls.
She heard stories about cockroach-infested buildings, and learned of people getting turned away from facilities because they were showing signs of dementia.
“I saw a need and I needed to fill that void,” Kwong says.
The company’s launch comes at a good time. Wait lists for long-term care homes in areas like Toronto and York Region are often hundreds of names long, with some people waiting for years on end, according to data from local Community Care Access Centres.
Meanwhile, the number of seniors across the country is rising. In 2011, about five million Canadians were 65 or older, according to federal government data — and that’s expected to double by 2036.
Despite the growing demand for seniors’ care services, launching Memory & Company was an uphill battle.
Kwong first incorporated the company in 2008 while she was moving up the ranks at a Sunrise Senior Living. After serving as executive director of the facility for three years, Kwong left to focus on Memory & Company full-time — and that’s when the roadblocks started.
Finding a spot for the building was tricky due to zoning restrictions and the fact that the company doesn’t easily fit into a clear category. It’s not exactly a medical centre, daycare or seniors home, but a blend of all three. “It’s something that’s never been done before,” Kwong says.
The Kwongs tried getting approvals for buildings in various areas, from midtown Toronto to Richmond Hill, before finally finding a site in Markham — a process that has cost them tens of thousands of dollars.
“My husband and I sold our house,” Kwong says. “We put everything we have into making this a reality.”
Despite the challenges, Kwong is thrilled that Memory & Company is finally launching and offering a new option for people with Alzheimer’s and their families.
“People with dementia can still live happy, vital lives,” Kwong says.