The Telegraph
Sunday , May 6 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999

Lions, even in winter

Sam Jagannathan has been looking after his ailing, bedridden mother for the last five years. The long nursing experience has taught the 66-year-old retired navy officer a few lessons. “It takes a lot of administration and effort to tend to an old person. This is best left to professionals. I don’t want my daughters to do this for me,” says the Bangalore-based sexagenarian.

Jagannathan and his wife have booked a three-bedroom apartment at a retirement home being built on the outskirts of Bangalore. “Ten years from now I will not be able to maintain the bungalow I live in. A retirement home will be better suited to our needs,” he says.

The couple’s new home — at Athashri Whitefield, a 108-flat senior living complex built by the Bangalore-based Athashri Foundation — meets most of their requirements. The complex will have a tie-up with the nearby Vydehi Hospital, for a doctor-on-call service. An ambulance will be stationed on campus. The in-house restaurant will home deliver all meals. The housekeeping staff will clean the apartments and do the laundry. For recreation, there is billiards, table tennis, a card room, cyber café and a library. Security is foolproof.

Add to these smaller benefits such as non-skid tiles, low-gradient steps, stretcher lifts, wide corridors for wheelchair access, anti-glare sensor lights and emergency hooters, and you have living units that make life as comfortable as can be for the elderly.

Indeed, such mod cons are the hallmark of most of the new retirement homes. The urban Indian senior citizen is opting for independent living, freedom from household chores, and the company of peers. “It’s the promise of an independent, comfortable, chic and secure life that is prompting an increasing number of elders to invest in luxury retirement homes,” says T. Ranganathan, director, Athashri Foundation.

India has 76 million people over 60, according to the 2011 census. This number is expected to grow to 173 million by 2025. Besides, urban Indian elders have also evolved as a customer segment. “Today, senior citizens are independent, financially stable, well-travelled and socially connected. As a result, they have well-developed thoughts on how they want to spend their old age,” says Saumyajit Roy, assistant vice-president, senior living, at real estate major Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL).

And unlike the old age homes of the past — which offered basic housing facilities at a minimal price — the new retirement communities fit the lifestyle aspirations of the affluent elderly. “These are gated communities that provide a comfortable lifestyle to high-income retirees who wish to live in a group and lead an active life,” says A. Sridharan, managing director, Covai Property Centre (CPC), a Coimbatore-based company that builds and manages retirement getaways.

The new retirement homes are managed and serviced — and at times, even furnished — by the builder. Like The Verandah Garden Retirement Homes at Kakkanad, near Cochin. “Residents only need to carry their clothes when they move in,” claims George E. George, managing director, Infra Housing, the company constructing the homes. Besides 128 furnished units, the complex comes with a pool, shuttle court, gym, library, home theatre and an ayurveda and physiotherapy centre. The flats cost a bit over Rs 30 lakh apiece.

However, most of these retirement homes are meant for the active elderly. They are not “homes” that take care of the sick and the infirm. A management committee at The Verandah at Kakkanad, for instance, screens buyers — they don’t want NRIs dumping their sick parents there. What happens when residents age and become incapacitated? “We’ll see then,” a company executive says.

Still, if the demand for these retirement homes is anything to go by, the fact that they are not geared to look after the sick is hardly acting as a damper. A survey on the Senior Living Sector in India, conducted by JLL last year, found that the demand for senior living facilities is over three lakh units in urban centres. “Currently, only 3,000 units are available in the market,” says Roy of JLL.

These homes cost about 15 to 20 per cent more than other houses in the same segment, besides charging a monthly maintenance — ranging between Rs 3,000 and Rs 10,000 — for the services offered to senior residents. At Athashri Whitefield, for instance, the cost of a living unit is Rs 3,000 per square foot.

With the demand climbing, construction of retirement homes is now on an overdrive. The Athashri Foundation runs as many as six retirement complexes in Pune. Three more senior homes — in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai — are under construction. “At present, we maintain 800 apartments, housing 1,000 senior residents,” says Ranganathan.

In Coimbatore, the Covai Property Centre runs three villa communities for seniors — Serene Soundaryam, Santhosham and Shenbhagam. It’s currently constructing 205 more apartments in the city, which will be ready for occupation by the end of this year. “We will offer 650 senior dwellings in Coimbatore by next year,” says Sridharan, adding that similar retirement communities are being built in Hyderabad, Chennai, Mysore, Bangalore and Pondicherry as well.

Coimbatore and Pune may, in fact, emerge as the senior living hubs of the future. In Coimbatore, Melur Meadows runs a senior home and a geriatric naturopathy centre, while the Brindavan Senior Citizen Foundation has three retirement complexes, offering 260 cottages. Besides Athashri’s half-a-dozen senior homes, Pune has the Golden Nest Commune.

Many communities also buzz with card games, book clubs and music lessons. Shyama Vijayan, 67, had been a happy housewife till she moved to Pune’s Golden Nest Commune last year.

Here, she discovered the writer in her. “I joined the literature club on a lark,” she says, and started writing for the quarterly in-house magazine, Phoenix. “I write recipes and travel pieces,” she adds.

Clearly, for those who can afford it, old age can be a time for relaxation and hassle-free living.