Retirement Communities in India – Need for Change in Model

Date: 9 September 2016 

Retirement Community has two components namely Senior Living and Senior Care. One can say Retirement Community = Senior (Living + Care).

The “living” component consists of of dwellings, amenities, basic medical facility and services like house keeping, catering etc. The “Care” component consists of Assisted, Memory, Palliative and Nursing Care.

What we ideally need is Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC), that offers housing and care options. What we have in India is extension of real estate or housing options for the seniors with minimum services like house keeping, security and basic medical facility.

CCRCs offer a combination of dwellings for living and, care in the form of Assisted, Memory and Palliative Care Centres. They also provide 24X7 security, social recreational facilities, dining options, house keeping, library and reading facilities, wellness and fitness programmes, transportation and concierge etc.

CCRCs provide services and care at various stages of the life of seniors. They provide freedom and independence and offer an Active lifestyle with group cohesion.  Any senior citizen opting for living in a CCRC is safe and secure with the knowledge that care and services would be provided to him or her until the very end.

In the absence of social security and non-availability of Insurance for living in a CCRC (insurance not available for Assisted or Memory or Palliative Care), seniors living in CCRCs need financial support for their living and care requirements, especially if they require Assisted, Memory or Palliative care.

The Government gives no concessions to seniors living in retirement communities. The money for post-retired life and to cater for inflation as well as increase in medical expenses with advancing age is cause for concern. Add to this, the independence and pride that the seniors of this segment have, most do not accept any help from their children, especially from daughters.

Retirement Community segment is still nascent in India. Assisted, Memory or Palliative Care is yet to find their due place as part of the Senior Care. The available retirement community projects neither offer complete solutions to a senior citizen who moves into any of these retirement communities nor do they give guaranteed care with the passion and compassion that the resident expects and deserves. Besides, the available retirement communities are becoming elitist and, do not cater to all segments of the senior citizens in our society.

One of the important aspects is lack of legislation for private parties, which run these retirement communities. This is causing many hardships to the unsuspecting senior citizens who invest large sum of their savings to become part of a retirement community but get duped through unfulfilled promises.

Since most of the retirement communities are extension of real estate development, the hype with which these communities are mushrooming all over India with tall promises, if allowed to function without any legislation, more and more senior citizens will be duped by the unscrupulous players in the field.

It is easy to sell real estate as retirement communities to unsuspecting seniors, but very difficult to provide services and care for which only seniors move into retirement communities.

Investment cost for the dwelling in a retirement community is increasing and, so is the recurring monthly expenditure. This has led to need for larger savings for post-retirement life without dilution in standard of living that one is used to. Expectations of seniors are also high and, more than the seniors, it is their children whose expectations one needs to attend to. Quality lifestyle and care is the Mantra, which is mostly absent.

There is also a growing feeling that senior citizens need not be gated and detached from the main stream but be part of the community which also gives them the desired space, freedom and independence as well as access to facilities available to others. Age does not bar anyone from pursuing activities like hiking, swimming or even deep sea diving! The option for parents or in-laws living in the same gated community or township in their own dwellings and retain their freedom and independence, while the child or children live in their own dwellings is perhaps the ideal model. Such a living keeps the family together and yet each member of the family cherishes their freedom. In some ways, this model brings in inter-dependency of the Joint Family system as against the dependency syndrome of nuclear families.

Wellness, psychological support especially to the singles who are more prone to depression, need for entertainment, outings and adoption of technologies to make living in a retirement community more comfortable and keep up with the times that we live in, are issues that have assumed significance and, rightly so.

Physical, intellectual, social, vocational, emotional and spiritual activities, which constitute Wellness, are very important since such activities keep the seniors engaged and makes them live longer. Wellness can be measured by the activities and the physical amenities that a retirement community offers. With people becoming health conscious, the CCRCs must cater for gyms, support groups, activities like music, painting, dance, therapy services, walking arrangements, entertainment, picnics as well as spiritual and religious discourses and activities.

A better quality of life keeps seniors engaged and they make others join the activities. Such activities including psychological counseling that a CCRC offers would govern the popularity of that community for others to move in.

If the senior citizens number 100 million in India today, the numbers will go up to 140 million by 2040. The following are to be taken note of for future senior citizens:

  1. Longevity and access to better medical facilities
  2. Technologically not challenged but are getting used to as part of lifestyle
  3. Decline in population growth in this segment
  4. Larger younger generation and a lager ageing population
  5. Social changes, increase in Middle Class numbers and access to better education to the deprived class
  6. Non availability of services staff like house keeping, gardeners, plumbers, electricians, carpenters etc and the struggle that the seniors have to endure in the coming days
  7. Nuclear family and children not staying with parents. Seniors deprived of close family and children support with advancing age

Therefore, the problems for seniors in the coming decade would increase and yet, we are continuing to ignore the exploding problem and, majority of us are in denial mode.

Merely aping the West and creating retirement communities without guaranteed services and more importantly, care as one ages, will not be acceptable in the coming decade. Real Estate Developers can no longer “dump” unsold dwellings on unsuspecting seniors by adding some cosmetic changes in design or specifications. The current practice of converting compulsory EWS dwellings into senior living 1BHK apartments and sell it at a high cost, will not find favor with the seniors.

We view senior living as any other real estate proposition with sq ft rate being the prime concern instead of considering it as a lifestyle concept. This is totally wrong.

 Therefore, are retirement communities in India that are currently on offer to our senior citizens on the right track with correct model or do we need paradigm shift in redefining and redesigning the existing model?

The answer is a big “NO”. What we need are changes in model (freehold and lease), design, lifestyle, living options, care facilities, cost reduction both investment and recurring expenses, greater attention to wellness, use of technology and above all legislation to govern the Retirement Community segment and give credit to those   who take onerous responsibility of taking care of seniors with passion and compassion that they deserveCan we do it? The answer is “YES, WE CAN!”  For suggestions as to “how,” watch this space!.

Colonel Achal Sridharan, VSM

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