A safe and sustainable solution for sunset years

Mohit Nirula, CEO of Columbia Pacific Communities>
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As of 2019, over 139 million people living in India are aged over 60, which is over 10 per cent of the country’s total population. The proportion of older people is expected to almost double to 19.5 per cent in 2050 with 319 million people aged over 60. This means that 1 in 5 Indians is likely to be a senior citizen. Unlike the generations before them, today’s elders are more independent, financially stable, well-travelled, and socially-connected individuals.


Among the bold and unconventional choices is opting to spend the rest of their sunset years at senior living communities. Mohit Nirula, the CEO of Columbia Pacific Communities, one of India’s largest senior living community operators, shares his thoughts with CE on the boost in demand after the pandemic, change in perception, and why it’s the way forward.


Excerpts follow:

Has the pandemic boosted the demand for senior citizen housing?
As a concept, it’s relatively new to India. But, the adoption and acceptance have grown. Given a choice between living with children and moving into a senior living community, society prefers the former, as living separately means lack of love or understanding. But, if you think from the perspective of of children who live away from parents due to professional commitments, it’s better for parents to stay in a community that’s designed keeping in mind their needs than living alone. This reality dawned on many of them during the pandemic. In fact, seniors in our facility fared better than those living alone with their medical and other needs taken care of. Now, the demand has gone through the roof and we have a waiting list of people who want to move into our facilities.


Is the perception of the concept changing among today’s generation?
Our society often attaches a stigma to parents and children not living together because that’s the default setting. But, senior citizens — after having fulfilled their responsibility to children, parents, careers, and society — have all rights to decide how they wish to retire. That way, senior living communities have become the preferred option. For children, in other cities, this offers some solace that their parents are in safe hands. It solves the physical, mental, and intellectual needs of all generations.


Four of your living communities are in Coimbatore. How’s the distribution of your service in Tamil Nadu?
Coimbatore became the default option for senior living communities because of the good weather, great medical infrastructure, and a low cost of living. Perhaps, that’s why it’s called the retirement capital of Tamil Nadu. But our focus currently is on tier 1 cities as there’s a gap between supply and demand.  Besides our existing properties in Chennai — Serene Pushkar and Serene Adinath — we are hopeful to launch our next property in the metro.


What do the seniors of today expect?
Good senior living should fulfil three factors — it should give you the space to explore your wants rather than needs. The medical requirements must be taken care of.  We also emphasise positive aging. The focus is not just to increase the length of life but also on the quality of life in terms of physical, mental, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and nutritional growth.


How do you keep up with the emerging trends in the segment?
We are trying to remain ahead of the curve. Whatever we design today is going to stay relevant for the next three years. Technology is going to be a great enabler. Today’s elders are tech-savvy and adopt technologies that improve the comfort and convenience of their lives. They stay away from anything that complicates simple tasks.


How do you suggest today’s generation and their parents approach the concept of senior living?
The focus must be on the service provider. One must always ask ‘Where will I be happier 10 to 20 years from now? If you focus on just the present situation then your options will be limited. There’s a lot of scope and potential for expansion in the industry.