There was a time when senior care in India was confined to old age homes. But those were generally meant for the destitute and run for charity. Things started to change at the turn of the century, with the mass exodus of young educated IT professionals to the West. Many sets of parents from the middle-class and upper middle-class groups found themselves in standalone mode.
This led to the concept of ‘retirement communities’, especially in south Indian states such as Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, where these young migrants largely hailed from. These cluster housing groups offered elderly people similar lifestyle outside of their homes, besides also taking care of day-to-day household services and medical emergencies. It also provides seniors with an option to spend the rest of their lives with like-minded people from the same age-group and income-group.
More recently, this concept of senior assisted living has spread wings all over India, with several big and small real-estate players having entered the fray. Colonel A Sridharan, managing director of Coimbatore-based Covai Property Centre, which has retirement homes in Coimbatore, Puducherry, Chennai, Bengaluru and Kanchipuram, says, “The aim is also to provide active lifestyle to the seniors besides it gives them the freedom and independence to lead their day their way.”
Buoyed by the success of their existing projects, Covai is looking beyond south, creating more such communities in Pune and Greater Noida. Sridharan points that the segment is decoupled from the residential real estate market. “When we started out in 2004, the idea had not been tested. Today, this segment is in great demand unlike real estate, which is dependent on economy.”
But, this does not come cheap. The prices for Covai’s retirement apartments range from Rs 22 lakh to 75 lakh, depending upon the location and size (one BHK to three BHK). In north India, Delhi-based Ashiana Housing was the first to create communities for the elderly — in Bhiwadi, Jaipur and Lavasa, in 2008, which now stand occupied by 1,100 people. This month, Ashiana is launching its fifth senior living project in Chennai. Their units are also in a similar price band.
The developers, however, are being sensitive and taking care of the needs of senior citizens while designing. They are maintained with a focus on special requirements of senior citizens – grab rails, anti-skid tiles, wheelchair-friendly premises, social and spiritual events, restaurants, convenience stores, libraries and a club area with rooms to play cards and follow hobbies. Besides, there are regular activities like cinema, satsang, tambola, cultural events and festivals to keep the occupants busy and active. More importantly, their medical emergencies need to be taken care of — so each unit is equipped with emergency switches and there are doctors-on-call in the complex.
The concept has now also moved in the hilly regions and Max Group has come up with its project Antara Senior Living near Dehradun, which is turning the idea of retirement communities on its head by fusing it with super luxury. Ranging between Rs 1.5 crore and Rs 6 crore, their 220 bespoke apartments for the 60-plus will be ready by early 2016. Each apartment can be customised based on the buyer’s need. Besides, a healthcare offering has been created along with Max Healthcare and Max Super Specialty Hospital in Dehradun, which close to Antara.
Tara Singh Vachani, CEO of Antara Senior Living, a subsidiary of Max India Group, says, “Ours is a service concept which is real-estate enabled but our core offering isn’t the housing aspect of the community. Antara’s focus is on the hospitality and healthcare aspect, so as to offer a lifestyle that is active, healthy, carefree, dignified and independent.” The prerequisite: age above 55 and net worth above Rs 5 crore.
According to consultancy firm Jones Lang LaSalle India, senior housing is a $25-billion industry worldwide. With a senior population of a whopping 100 million people, India has an estimated demand for three lakh such homes, valued at over $1 billion, says their latest report. At the outset, it may seem like a very Western concept, but an increasing number of affluent and active seniors in India are now opting for independent living as opposed to living as dependents to their children. The Association of Senior Living India (ASLI), a voluntary membership association for developers and service providers that operate in the senior living industry, says only one senior in every 10,000 is engaged in some form of senior living in India, as compared to 12 seniors in every 100 in the US and four in every 100 in Australia. ASLI also pegs the current demand for senior housing in India is about 3,12,000 units.
Since the concept is relatively new in India, the ownership patterns are also unique. Each of the builders is evolving their own deals. For instance, at Antara, there’s an option of a lifetime lease, wherein residents receive a title deed to live in the apartment for the rest of their lives. There is also an option to will it to your children, who can live here after they turn 55.
While the concept is evolving, the demographics of residents are also evolving. What started as an almost-exclusive domain of the typical NRI parents, now includes many retired professionals, bureaucrats and even businessmen who have earned enough and saved enough. For instance, a Delhi-based couple in their sixties, where the husband was a senior government official and the wife ran an event-management agency, have signed up for Antara.
The husband, who doesn’t want to be named, says, “We had decided that once our children are well-settled, we will spend our time being meaningfully engaged. So we wanted a home where we did not have to take care of the hassles of everyday life. While I can finish my book project, my wife can spend time indulging in her favourite hobbies — gardening and gossiping. A couple of our friends are living in such communities abroad and are very happy.”
Not just couples, even those who have lost their spouse are also happy to be part of such communities, where they can kind people their age to relate to. In fact, even those who are disabled, bedridden or face some health concerns can also be accommodated here since caregivers are offered at an extra cost. While Antara is built around the core principle of luxury for the well-heeled, some other communities are based on themes such as ayurveda and wellness, spirituality and even vegetarianism.
Swarnalayam, located near the foothills of Siruvani of the Western Ghats, near Coimbatore, is one such all-vegetarian retirement community. S Vettrivel, CEO of Swarnalayam, says, “Our project is located very close to Lord Patteswara temple, and is a fully vegetarian community of spiritual-minded people. We started an year ago, and offer 30 fully furnished compact houses. More than half of these apartments are inhabited.”
Looks like the business of senior living in India has come of age.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines