Forget Old-Age Homes, How India’s Senior Citizens Are Giving Life A Golden Lining
The United Nations Population Fund and Help Age India estimate the number of elderly people to increase to 173 million by 2026. In India, there is serious demand for housing for senior citizens.
On a balmy Saturday afternoon, the clubhouse of Antara in Dehradun reverberates with boisterous chatter and laughter. The elderly crowd is enjoying a cheat day—they can eat and drink whatever they like. On the horizon, verdure cloaks the foothills of the Himalayas. Birdsong and the chirping of crickets suffuse the air. Antara, the property’s website declares, is “a beautifully designed community for the progressive few who believe age is just a number.” Many Indian elderly citizens abide by this dictum and consider the term ‘old-age home’ passe. For them, the correct appellation would be senior living homes.
Chandrashekar Rao and his wife, Shaswati, both 67, are one such couple. They were batch mates in the civil services and lived a comfortable life with a stream of attendants to cater to their needs. But life took a difficult turn after retirement, when they shifted from a posh apartment in Delhi to the city’s outskirts. With kids living abroad and not much help around, they had to do all chores on their own.
“The house helps did not turn up for days,” says Shaswati. “If there was any electrical problem in the house, first, the electricians would not come on time and then, they would cheat us royally. Life became a struggle till we heard of this place and decided to live here. At Antara, everything is taken care of and I can pursue my passion for painting.” She goes for art lessons every day. A chauffeur picks her up and drops her to the classes and housekeeping staff takes care of the household chores. What she likes most about the staff is that they are well trained and impeccably turned out. The Raos believe that if people treat you politely, half your health problems disappear.
“We were one of the first residents of Antara and the quality of life we have here is unmatchable,” says Chandrashekar. “Most importantly, we are in the company of like-minded people. The best part about this place is that they have chosen the residents and the staff carefully, so nothing much has changed from the kind of life we used to lead pre-retirement. It’s just that we have more time now to indulge in our passion for reading and art.”
Chandrashekar prefers a senior citizen home as he never gets bored. Antara’s residents’ social calendar is chock-a-block with parties, festival celebrations and events like literature fests round the year. “There are dedicated health and fitness trails. The activity zones include a badminton-cum-tennis court, outdoor gyms and putting greens,” says Sonia Kumar, head of sales community operations at Antara. All the apartments have functional kitchens. Residents can cook if they want to as well as eat from the clubhouse, the membership to which comes along with the apartment. For many, moving into a senior home is just like shifting homes, albeit without the worry of housekeeping or cooking. The diverse facilities senior living residences offer blend housing, hospitality and healthcare.
“We take care of every minute detail,” says Renuka Dudeja, head of marketing and communications at Antara. “There are fire detector sensors and panic buttons in each room. As soon as you press these, attendants will come to your doorstep to help you out. All staff members know about the medical conditions of the residents and prepare food accordingly, without compromising on taste.”
Eden Senior Living and Wellness Home, which is also being built in Dehradun and will be operational from 2022, is coming up with a unique offering for senior citizens by combining top-end amenities with integrative medicine. Its founder, Deepak Gupta, says, “All spaces, including the common ones, apartments and wellness facilities, have been planned to cater to the residents’ requirements. Wide corridors and ramps will eliminate the need for steps. Attention to the smallest detail is reflected in the use of rounded corners along the walls, anti-skid flooring, unhindered wheelchair access and grab rails in apartments as well as common areas.”
As old-age homes become more luxurious and draw a prosperous clientele, they are no longer viewed as a miserable place where relatives dump elderly citizens to die. Senior living residences are fast becoming a lifestyle choice rather than a last resort. People who have been high achievers and earned a comfortable retirement cushion expect to continue to live independently and securely. Many are not prepared for the isolation and lack of routine that retirement tends to bring. Thus, in many cases, it is the senior citizens themselves who decide to move to these homes to enjoy a life of luxury and independence. In fact, many believe that their relationship with their children has improved after shifting out as the latter can focus on their lives without feeling guilty or irresponsible.
The United Nations Population Fund and Help Age India estimate that the number of elderly people is expected to increase to 173 million by 2026 from around 76 million today. Of these, 29 per cent of seniors—60 years and over—live in urban areas.
The luxury senior living residences available in India are inadequate. Estimates from latest census updates and secondary research suggest that the demand for senior housing in India is 2.4 lakh units in urban areas and 51,500 residences in rural regions. As the elderly population grows, this requirement is likely to become more pressing.
However, population growth is not uniform across the country. A report published by SBI states that in the coming decades, the percentage of elderly population in the southern states of India is set to grow at a higher rate than the rest of the nation. To cater to this demographic, Columbia Pacific Communities has set up Serene Urbana near Bangalore. Its tranquil setting, a 4.5-acre plot near the Kempegowda International Airport, is untouched by the noise and pollution of the city. Mohit Nirula, CEO of Columbia Pacific Communities, says, “Collective living allows seniors to remain socially, physically and mentally engaged and be active and healthy for a longer period of time.”
Coimbatore is considered one of the best places for senior citizens to settle down. Ananya’s Nana Nani Homes in the city envisages a residence with modern amenities and dedicated services to make life after 50 stress-free and self-reliant. Facilities such as ATMs, pharmacies and clinical laboratories are provided within the gated community for the convenience of residents. Bless Retirement Living in Kerala too offers a unique blend of private homes and community living. It eliminates responsibilities associated with home ownership and maintenance and diminishes concerns of isolation and physical safety.
Located in south Vazhakulam near Aluva, Bless has a strategic location that gives easy access to city life as well as peace and privacy. The apartments are designed in such a way that even people in wheelchairs can perform their daily chores if they wish to. All residents are assured that when age impacts their physical functioning and self-reliance dwindles, they can continue to live in the surroundings they are familiar with, enjoy the company of their friends and continue to engage in meaningful activities. When necessary, their needs are met by well-trained staff that provides adequate care.
It is very easy to slip into isolation and depression during the sunset years of your life. But these retirement homes ensure that elderly citizens get an opportunity to relax, follow their passion and enjoy the fruits of their labour. Babu Joseph, chairman of Bless, says, “A few of our residents were on sleeping pills for years, but after coming here, they don’t need to take medication any more. We keep the residents engaged and busy throughout the day and ensure that they are able to fulfill their longstanding dreams, be it travelling, script writing, penning a novel, playing music or organising and taking part in cultural activities and outreach programmes.”
R. Venugopal, a retired pediatrician and movie enthusiast, who lives in a beautiful studio apartment in Bless, says, “I have been a widower for long, but after shifting here, I don’t feel lonely anymore because I get to interact with likeminded people. At this age, all you need is mental peace and good company. Bless offers me tranquility and time to read. I came here with some expectations and the place has truly lived up to those.”
The strong community bonds at these residences help people weather difficult times or grieve a loss. Sutindar Kumar Varma, 80, moved to Antara a few years back with his wife, who was suffering from cancer. “This place has a soul,” he says. “I never felt lonely even after my wife’s death. We have a lot of fun dancing, singing and playing. It was my wife who decided to move here as she wanted me to be comfortable and well cared for when she is no more.”
Many are also inspired by the belief that if you can afford it, there is nothing better than a senior living home. “The problem with Indians is we don’t know how to spend money and enjoy,” declares Varma. “We need to learn how to have fun in the second innings of our life post retirement.”
- Antara Senior Living Home,
- DehradunAshiana Senior Housing communities in Bhiwadi, Jaipur, Lavasa & Chennai
- Bless Retirement Living, south Vazhakulam, Kerala
- Ananya Nana Nani Homes, CoimbatoreSerene Urbana, near Bangalore
- Godhuli Senior Citizen Home, Naihati, near Kolkata
- Aamaar Ghar old-age home, Guwahat
- Handrails and other accessibility features
- Clubhouse, jogging track, gym and pool
- Trained professional staff, including 24/7 nursing services
- Emergency medical services
- Close to or attached to a hospital
- Healthy lifestyle and food options without compromising on dietary preferences and taste
- Community living with like-minded people
- Activities and engagements
- Customised and friendly service