Scholarship Winner Announcement Scholarship Winner Announcement

And The Winner Is...

We are so excited to receive more than 150 submissions to our essay contest on the topic of senior living in Canada. The viewpoints of today’s young people on this important subject are remarkably impressive. After careful deliberation, we arrived at a short list of the top ten entries, and in the coming weeks we will publish several of the essays that were particularly impressionable.

There was one essay however, that rose to the top, and we are extremely pleased to announce that Helene Wheeler will receive a $500 scholarship from SeniorsZen. The creative way in which she illustrated the topic of senior living, along with a very thoughtful presentation gave her the edge she needed to win.

We thank Helene for her entry and wish her success in her education and pursuing her dreams! Please enjoy reading the essay by Helene Wheeler entitled, ‘Greener Pastures’.


Greener Pastures: My Ideal Retirement

I’ve spent my life in cities, looking longingly at the country like a fish looking out of the bowl that holds it prisoner. I grew up in a city and have developed a network of family, friends, and a job that have made it exceedingly hard to leave city life behind for greener pastures. I see retirement as my opportunity to realize that lifelong dream.  I want to spend my retirement years outside as much as possible, surrounded by beautiful countryside and animals on a farm based retirement facility (the “Farm”).

Specifically, I’d like to live on a farm that has a vegetable garden, a barn, and lush fields that could be a sanctuary for mistreated farm animals.  Pigs, ducks, chickens, turkeys, horses, cows, rabbits, dogs, cats – any neglected or homeless animal that needs a place to be loved, that’s what I would want the Farm to be. If people wanted to pay to have their retired horses boarded, the Farm could take them in as well.  School tours could come and visit the Farm and learn about the animals.

The Farm would consist of a traditional house and a separate retirement residence (the “Care Facility”), along with a barn for the animals, a chicken coop, rabbit hutch, green house, vegetable garden, and perhaps a couple of fields of crops to generate feed for the horses and cows.  The main house would be located at the end of a long driveway that was lined with trees.  It would be a traditional style house, with a large front porch and neat, brightly covered shutters outside each window.  The main farm house would house adults that could live without any medical assistance in shared accommodation, including paying residents of the Farm, employees, and volunteers. 

Once older residents were in need of special care, they could move to the Care Facility.  The Care Facility would be set up more like a traditional elder care community with features that would address mobility issues like wider halls, elevators, walk in bathtubs, medical equipment, hospital beds, and around the clock nursing care. The Care Facility would have a large kitchen and adjacent dining room, where all the members of the Farm community would gather for group meals.

Employees and volunteers would have assigned duties, but paying residents could choose to participate in as much, or as little of the farm activities as they wanted to.  There would be plenty to do: planting and tending to the vegetable garden, cleaning the barn, maintaining the grounds, feeding and watering the animals.  The garden would be harvested and used to feed those who lived on the Farm and the scraps would go to the animals.  Other than farm work, residents could go for long walks on the property or host school groups coming on visits.

Not only do I think it would be fun to retire on the Farm, but studies show that there are plenty of health and psychological benefits associated this proposed type of living situation.  For instance, one study concluded that patients whose hospital rooms look out over green spaces recuperate faster after surgery than those patients without a view.[1]  Another study from Japan ties a longer life to living near parks and green spaces where seniors can take walks and get a boost from sunlight.[2]  At the UCLA, studies by geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Helen Lavretsky show that contact with the outdoors in the form of walks and outdoor yoga in the woods improves good feelings in her patients.[3]  In an article she states “[J]ust being outside is a major pleasure, and being in nature is a powerful thing. It’s in our roots. It’s essential for our sleep, our mood, our health. It’s the ultimate pleasure of being connected to the Earth.”[4]  Clearly, contact with the outdoors improves the health and well-being of seniors.

In addition to plenty of exposure to nature and the outdoors, the Farm would provide a sense of purpose in retirement. A sense of purpose in retirement has been shown to slow cognitive deterioration and provide a sustained source of psychological health and well-being.[5]  A French study of 429,000 previously self-employed retirees, showed a 3.2% reduction in the risk of a dementia diagnosis for every additional year these individuals worked before retiring. Individuals who worked to 65 had a 14.6% lower chance of dementia than those retiring at age 60.[6]

As well, the animals on the Farm would provide much needed companionship to its residents, which would contribute to the physical and psychological well-being of older adults.[7]  Studies have shown that Alzheimer’s patients have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal in the home.[8]   One insurance company, Midland Life Insurance Company of Columbus, actually considers pet ownership to be a factor that decreases the premiums paid by clients.[9]

Where can I sign up to be a resident of the Farm?  A search on came up with nothing, so I browsed the internet more widely, conducting a google search using terms such as “retirement home and farm” or “retirement residence and farm”.  As it turns out, there isn’t a Farm for me to retire to…yet.  It is my hope that with continued research on alternative models of elder care, it won’t be long until there are a number of farm based retirement communities for me to turn to.  If not, maybe I’ll build the Farm myself.


[1] Deborah Franklin, “How Hospital Gardens Help Patients Heal” 306(3) Scientific American (March 1, 2012) accessed online:

[2] T Takano, K Nakamura, and M Watanabe , “Urban residential environments and senior citizens' longevity in megacity areas: the importance of walkable green spaces” (2002)  56(12)J Epidemiol Community Health 913–918.

[3] Helen Lavretsky et. al., “Yogic meditation reverses NF-κB and IRF-related transcriptome dynamics in leukocytes of family dementia caregivers in a randomized controlled trial” (2013) 38(3) J. of Psychoneuroendocrinology 348 – 355. Accessed online:

[4] John Carey, « Nature’s Benefits for Seniors”, National Wildlife Federation online: (accessed July10, 2014).

[5] Marc Freedman, “Why a Sense of Purpose Is So Crucial in Retirement” Wall Street Journal October 31, 2013.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Raina P, Waltner-Toews D, Bonnett B, Woodward C, Abernathy T., “Influence of companion animals on the physical and psychological health of older people: an analysis of a one-year longitudinal study.” (1999) 47 J. Am Geriatr. Soc. 323-9.

[8] Jeanie Lerche Davis, “Five Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health”, Web MD online: (accessed July 8, 2014).

[9] Ibid.

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