A group of senior citizens practicing yoga in a retirement community run by Ashiana group

Retirement homes: A haven for those too old to work, too young to die

They aren’t the popularly imagined dwellings for spurned old parents, but offer a holistic lifestyle for those among the elderly who still have a great zeal for life

Namrata Kohli | New Delhi

The phrase “the golden years” was coined in 1959 in an advertising campaign for America’s first large-scale retirement community, which was targetting a segment of society that saw itself as “too old to work, too young to die.” The catchphrase apparently caught on, as several seniors took to the idea of regarding retirement as a ‘second childhood’.

The concept of retirement homes has captured the urban mindset in a big way in India as well, with the presence of a host of mid-end to upscale senior home residences and complexes across the country today, that create a conducive environment for the elderly to live in

Senior living homes or retirement communities are more about something called “positive ageing.” A pioneer of senior housing in the country, Ashiana group’s Ankur Gupta recently asked me: “How many times do you think an ambulance was required for my 630-odd seniors at Bhiwadi?” The first thing that came to my mind was “20 or 30”, though quite honestly, I had no clue whether it was too little or too much. Gupta said most people he met put the number at 30-50 times a year, but the actual was only seven. The fact is when it comes to senior living, the requirement for healthcare actually reduces and Gupta says emphatically, “My seniors love trekking; they love singing and dancing and they live far healthier lives. If you live a good life you needn’t worry about health.”

Positive ageing essentially delinks age as a number from ageing as a phenomenon. Mohit Nirula, CEO, Columbia Pacific Communities, which has promoted Columbia Asia Hospitals and has developed 1,600 homes for the elderly in nine communities across five cities, says, “We advocate a lifestyle that keeps seniors physically fit, mentally alert, and intellectually stimulated in a socially engaging environment. Age becomes just a number and it doesn’t matter whether you are 60 or 85 – you should be happy.”

But does that mean that seniors living in regular condos aren’t happy? Says Nirula, “A lot of seniors are living alone in mixed-family condos within the city. The problem that comes with such dwellings is that you have paid the fair price for the asset, but you are not getting the services you need to live a worry-free life. Here, that headache is ours.”

Are senior homes unique?

A senior-citizen home is designed to have all the comforts of a regular house with additional functionality and detailing to suit the dweller’s needs. Says Rajit Mehta, MD & CEO, Antara: “Unlike a normal high-end housing society or residence, senior-living facilities are designed specially to cater to the diverse and evolving needs of the elderly. These facilities have special design requirements such as larger hallways, wheelchair-turning radius at the doors, grab bars, sensory lighting, and anti-skid tiles.”

There are add-on services as well, such as round-the-clock medical assistance, emergency response system, 24×7 paramedical service, in-house staff for emergency and care, housekeeping and home maintenance, advanced security and trained emergency evacuation system.

Healthcare and continuous looking after are key features. Says Gupta of Ashiana Housing Ltd: “There are three types of medical issues that generally crop up- one is cold, cough and regular kind of issues that happen for everyone and this may be a little more frequent for seniors. Second is degenerative problems such as tooth, bone, and eye decay, hearing loss. Here, seniors need plenty of help and attention because such problems are natural and an intrinsic part of the ageing process. Third is chronic lifestyle illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension, for which again, you don’t need to rush to the hospital. They can mostly be managed here. Of late, we have introduced a social worker into our communities for prevention of mental health issues.”

Services and the right manpower to take care of errands and post-operative care are critical factors in the success of any retirement community. Says Antara’s Mehta: “Our lifecare suites are well equipped with all necessary medical accessories to offer all kinds of post-operative care to our residents within the premises itself. The whole concept of ageing in place, with a continuous care proposition takes care of residents. For instance, our 200-apartment 14-acre Dehradun community provides holistic wellness solutions to seniors that is managed and maintained by a team of over 200 trained and dedicated professionals. Curated engagement activities, nutritionally-assisted meals and an expansive wellness area ensure that all residents remain physically and cognitively stimulated.”

Key projects

The market for senior housing is still underserved. According to a study undertaken by McKinsey & Company, India has 120 million seniors, and they will make up about 10 per cent of the total population by 2025. Healthcare is the largest burden on their wallets, with 30 per cent needing dedicated post-operative care.

To meet this end efficiently, there are special care homes (more like hospitals) by Antara (Max group), which has a 37-bed (32-room) Care Home facility at South Delhi’s Sylvan colony in Greater Kailash, Care Home in Gurugram and the recently launched Care Homes in Dehradun. There is personalised care with 24×7 nursing, daily monitoring of vitals and regular doctor consultation. At Gurugram, the charges at Antara Care Homes start from Rs 4,000 per day.

Then there are lifestyle retirement communities across the country. Take the case of Ashiana group, which has projects in Chennai, Pune and Bhiwadi- a total of 2,000 units in the senior housing category consisting of 1-, 2- and 3-BHK apartments costing anything between Rs 30-83 lakh. “Fifteen years ago, there were just 3-4 players when I started out,” says Gupta. “But today there are almost 30-40 players with every prominent developer either launching or planning a foray in this category.”

Godrej Properties is coming up with ‘The Banyan’, an exclusive tower in Godrej Royale Woods for seniors in Devanahalli, Bengaluru. The project, which will be ready by October 2025, prices the 1-BHK at Rs 39.99 lakh. Primus Lifespaces has projects in Bengaluru, with one and two bedroom apartments in a price range of 29-68 lakh. Columbia Pacific Communities has homes varying from one bedroom apartment to three bedroom villa/duplex under the name of “Serene Homes” across Bengaluru, Chennai, Coimbatore and Puducherry in a price band of Rs 28 lakh to 1.65 crore.

In the luxury senior housing space is Antara Dehradun which has units costing anywhere between 2-8 crores. It follows many of the American Disability Act (ADA) guidelines for its community that allow barrier free and safe access to all the facilities.

A lavish club house over 50,000 sq. ft includes a cafe, restaurant, spa, theatre, activity rooms, outdoor spaces and an indoor heated swimming pool. Antara Noida, located off the Noida Expressway is a part of an upcoming golfing community in Sector 150. The first phase spread across 4 acres has 340 units and possession of apartments is due in 2024. They have an expansive club spread over 42,000 sq ft with similar luxury amenities.

Far from old-age homes

After the Covid-19 pandemic, people are warming up to the idea of moving to retirement communities, which were looked at as old-age homes earlier. Says Columbia Pacific’s Nirula: “For a long time, social stigma has been attached to people moving into senior living communities – very wrongly and unfairly, senior homes have been seen as places for people with no options to go to, for those not enjoying the love and support of their children. If we were to look at what the truth today is in India, a survey recently said 77 per cent of those above the age of 55 are living alone in key Indian cities cities. That would imply that in a country like ours 77 per cent of parents are not loved by their children -nothing could be further than the truth.”

Children of most parents are studying or working abroad and are therefore away. Says Nirula, “This pursuit of a better lifestyle and a better life for their children than they had for themselves has seen parents staying alone, but they are happy that their kids are doing well. They do not wish to hinder the growth of their children and often start living alone by choice, and not because they don’t have an option. Deep within their hearts is also a desire never to be a burden on their children. Culturally they are still very close, but circumstantially living alone. As a country we owe it to seniors, to spend their best years in a decent way.” From a “No choice” to a “preferred choice” option with a zero-headache lifestyle, the transition is happening slowly but surely.

Most of these homes in retirement communities are available in a price bracket of Rs 35 lakh to Rs 1.5 crore. Who finances them? Says Adarsh Narahari, Founder & MD, Primus Life spaces Pvt Ltd: “The role of the kid is pretty much limited to approving the community that the elder chooses. About 80-85 per cent is financed purely by the elders themselves. These days elders are fiercely independent and also financially independent and they make their own decisions.”

Care out-of-home

Those who do not wish to move to a retirement community can subscribe to the likes of Emoha who cater to healthcare and emergency needs of seniors staying anywhere in the country. Says Saumyajit Roy, Co-Founder & CEO, Emoha Eldercare, “Forty per cent of elders forget to take their medicine, many have falls. Just imagine if a senior fell at night, who would come with the children away in Boston? Companies like ours are connected to our seniors, 24×7, 365 days. We have 3,400 elders as part of our community and have saved the lives of 90 people. Our biggest value is peace of mind.”

They have two membership models- one called ‘Empower’ where you pay Rs 1,000 a month for help in times of emergency plus engagement activities such as logging into events and enjoy Ghazals, shero shairi, Bollywood nite and spiritual night and even joint physiotherapy and yoga sessions. The second is ‘Assure’ model, for Rs 6,000 per month or Rs 72,000 per year, which comes with a full body health check-up every month, routine dietary and physio check-ups, and errand management with care buddies or ex-defence force people tending to routine jobs and errands. Fire and smoke sensors are placed inside the house and panic alarms alert Emoha in case of emergency situations. There is a third model which is “Pay per use” where you can ask for care partners and nurses, specialised physiotherapy, 12-hour ICU at home support and pay as per usage. “In each of these models, a relationship manager calls and checks on the well-being of the senior, becoming a ‘virtual daughter or a son’ for the seniors,” says Roy.

Some grey areas

“Taxation is still high for elder care services. We need GST to be exempted for this segment,” says Primus’ Narahari. “A cherry on the top is specific zones for development of retirement communities to be incorporated in all city level masterplans.”

Most of the elders don’t get home loans. India has a reverse mortgage policy but it hasn’t really taken off. There is a need to overhaul reverse mortgage rules and feasible medical insurance for senior citizens

Last but not the least, the cities should be designed in such a way that elders feel secure and a part of it. Says Kunal Kumar, Joint Secretary & Mission Director (Smart Cities Mission), Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government of India: “One of the statistics I saw reveals that 30 per cent of our population consists of the elderly or children but the percentage of people who step out of this category is only 10 per cent. Many prefer not to walk because streets are not safe and not conducive. This is being fixed under the smart city–Street4People. We have another programme called Nurturing Neighbourhoods-–creating spaces that nurture people and neighbourhoods which are nurtured by people- it works both ways. Apart from building safe public spaces, elders need good healthcare and we are introducing ways to make things more efficient.”

Finally, we need to make our cities more inclusive and plan urban areas in which elders feel included and valued, empowered and independent and an active part of the community.

Table: Some leading retirement community projects in India

Project What’s on offer Home price (Rs)
Antara Dehradun 200 senior living residences in sizes ranging from 1,400 sq ft to 6,000 sq ft with a living room, fully equipped kitchen, and an extra room for staff 2-8 cr
Antara Noida, Sector-150 550 senior living residences with 340 apartments in phase-1, will be ready for possession in 2024; two- and three-bedroom units in sizes from 1,476 sq ft to 3,012 sq ft. 1.08-2.21 cr
Primus Reflection 2 BHK of size 1,350 sq ft at Kanakapura Main Road, Bengaluru 68 lakh
Primus VBHC Palm Haven II project 1 & 2 BHK of average size 770 sq ft at Kengeri, off Mysore Road 29 lakh
Ashiana Ashiana Nirmay-Bhiwadi 1 BHK, 2BHK, 3BHK 34.20-64.45 lakh
Ashiana Shubham-Chennai 1 BHK, 2BHK, 3BHK 45.2- 83.40 lakh
Ashiana Utsav Lavasa-Pune 1 BHK, 2BHK 43.75-74.35 lakh
Godrej Royale’s Banyan Tower-Devanahalli Bengaluru Project ready by October 2025, with 1 BHK and 2 BHK (786-1,043 sq ft saleable area) 39.99 lakh
Columbia Pacific Communities: Serene Urbana, Bengaluru 1-3 BHK of sizes 680-1,480 sq ft 40 lakh-1 cr
Chennai Columbia Pacific Communities Serene AdinathSerene Pushkar 1BHK-3BHK of size 544 sq ft-1,050 sq ft 40-70 lakh

Coimbatore Columbia Pacific Communities: Serene Idigarai, Serene Indus Valley, Serene Rose, Serene Shenbagam,

1-3BHK Duplex/Villa of sizes 535-1,700 sq ft 28-165 lakh
Serene Pelican, Puducherry 3BHK villa of size 517-2,033 sq ft30-50 lakh 1BHK-3BHK villa of size 570-1,700 sq ft 30-82 lakh
Columbia Pacific Communities Serene Kshetra, Kanchipuram 1-3BHK villas of sizes 517-2,033 sq 30-50 lakh

Source: Senior Home Developers

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