Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Home away from Home

THE ELDERLY are either neglected, used or abused," says Alan Chatterjee, 58. Due to retire from Air-India at the end of this month, this pilot and former Air Force wing commander has already booked for himself and 56-year-old wife Shyama a flat at Dignity Lifestyle’s retirement complex now under construction at Neral, off Mumbai.

What does he expect to get here that he cannot get outside? For one, dignity. As Chatterjee says: "We want a place where we can walk with our heads held high." And second, a place where every need of the elderly is anticipated and taken care of.

It is this combination of physical and emotional satisfaction that today’s retirement homes strive to provide. From an era where old-age homes were synonymous with charitable institutions for the indigent and orphaned elderly, we moved some years ago to the far more refined paid homes, where amenities were good and services like on-site medical check-ups and transport arrangements were provided. Now, retirement homes are set to enter a third phase of evolution.

First, property developers have realised the financial potential in old-age housing, and many of them are coming up with residential complexes and townships designed especially for senior citizens. Second, whether retirement home or housing complex, they are all being built consciously to certain accepted principles of gerontology. From just being luxurious, they now exhibit an informed sensitivity to retirees’ needs, whether by replacing steps with ramps or by providing mental stimulation.

The numbers. Gerontology is something that Indians had better begin to take seriously. There are almost 80 million senior citizens in India today, expected to go up to 370 million by 2047, and 50 per cent of them are in urban areas. Apart from the breakdown of the joint family, thousands of young Indians have migrated to the West, leaving behind ageing parents who are educated and independent but alone. "There are an estimated 2 million NRIs in the US alone, with the wealth and the inclination to finance their parents’ old age," says B.N. Samal, director and CEO, LIC HFL Care Homes, a new entrant to elderly housing. Also, much of the middle-class elderly population here has adequate means to afford assisted living.

Life expectancy is steadily increasing, but cities are no longer safe nor friendly neighbours a certainty. Alternative housing for the aged is a practical lifestyle solution that developers are now ready to provide. Says Samal: "Running senior citizens’ homes on a commercial basis is a well-established business in the West, and the potential for it here is vast."

Outlook Money takes a look at some alternative housing solutions now available, what they offer and at what price.

What’s available
Older retirement homes were rather like luxurious hostels, where you paid a deposit for a lifetime lease on the unit, exclusive of extras like food, transport etc. The deposit was refunded to you if you decided to move out (only after another resident was found), or to your heirs.

While Dignity Lifestyle’s village in Neral functions like this, in that the unit reverts to the foundation after the resident’s death, it would be misleading to classify it here. The 500-unit township set across 25 acres is designed so sensitively that it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘retirement living’. It’s expected to be ready by July 2005, and about 120 people have signed up so far.

The new idea. Retirement housing complexes are replacing "homes" today. Here, you buy a unit just like any other flat, which you can then bequeath to your heirs. If they are senior citizens, they can move in; or they can rent/sell the place (see table). The complexes come with a host of comforts and amenities designed to make retired life comfortable.

Of the several such coming up, Pune’s Athashri complex promoted by Paranjape Schemes was one of the first to be completed early last year. All 180 flats have been sold, and by October the next block of 160 flats will be ready. These are ownership flats, which residents can bequeath to their children. If over 55, the heirs can live here, or they can choose to rent them out. Paranjape Schemes is also ready to buy back the flats at prevailing rates.

High-profile LIC Housing has stepped in, with LIC Care Homes beginning construction in Bangalore. Given LIC’s tag, people have high hopes from it, and the plans promise not to belie these (see interview). Spread across 10 acres, the village will have 98 independent bungalows initially, extended to 150 in the second phase. Again, cottages can be bequeathed to children over 55. If they are not that old or do not choose to live there, LIC Care returns the deposit amount.

At Kochi’s 55-unit Riverdale Consortium, run by a trained gerontologist, the chief advantage is that you can also take the units on rent. Heirs of ownership units can resell to Riverdale at the purchase price, or rent them out, but only after depositing the unit price with Riverdale as maintenance amount.

What they cost

Flats at the Athashri complex cost Rs 6 lakh (450 sq. ft) and Rs 8 lakh (611 sq. ft), with Rs 25,000 as booking amount and the rest payable in instalments over 18 months. But there’s also a refundable lifetime maintenance deposit of Rs 1.5 lakh. If you sell and move out, this deposit is returned to you.

At LIC Care, there are three kinds of units at Rs 5 lakh (400 sq. ft) Rs 7 lakh (600 sq. ft), and Rs 9 lakh (800 sq. ft). You pay 50 per cent of the amount upfront and the rest before moving in. LIC Care’s chief attraction: you get concessional loans from LIC Housing for the purchase.

Riverdale is priced at Rs 1.5 lakh (200 sq. ft), Rs 2.5 lakh (350 sq. ft), and Rs 2.8 (400 sq. ft). Rents are Rs 2,550 for a single-room unit to Rs 6,600 for a deluxe double, inclusive of incoming calls, electricity, maintenance and food.

Dignity Lifestyle’s units cost Rs 3 lakh (180 sq. ft), Rs 6 lakh (375 sq. ft) and Rs 8 lakh (500 sq. ft), with the booking amount Rs 1.5 lakh for the smallest unit and Rs 2 lakh for the others. The balance is payable in quarterly instalments. Dignity Lifestyle Trust gives you 50 per cent of the total amount as a loan, where the EMI works out to about Rs 9,500 over five years. Children of prospective residents can take a loan from Dignity’s bankers, based on their income and assets.

Monthly charges. Apart from this, all places charge a monthly fee that covers various heads like housekeeping, linen, security, meditation, yoga, bhajans, lectures etc. In some places, the charge also covers vegetarian food, basic electricity charges and telephone rentals.

This fee ranges from Rs 3,500 per person at Dignity to roughly Rs 4,000 at LIC Care (inclusive of vegetarian food). Riverdale charges Rs 320-530, covering electricity, water and security. Athashri’s one-time maintenance charge covers pool, clubhouse and garden, plus security, weekly flat cleaning, and corporation tax, while an extra Rs 350 gets you a maid.

What they offer

None of them have skimped on comfort. They are all built on sprawling lawns, with library, health club, meditation centre, and indoor games. All of them have reasonably priced cafeterias. At Athashri, for instance, a meal costs about Rs 20.

The Dignity cottages come fully furnished, with beds, dressers, writing desk, sofas, and geysers; plus TV, fridge and telephone, plus pantry equipped with toaster, kettle, crockery and cutlery for two.

Subash Bapat, 61, a retired senior officer from Bank of India, moved into Athashri with wife Sangeeta in February last year. He spent Rs 13 lakh for two adjoining units, and got himself a roughly 1,000 sq. ft apartment. "It’s not just senior citizens, we even have a handicapped lady living here by herself because the facilities are so convenient," he says.

Needs anticipated. Where all these places are bound to score with retirees is in the extras they offer. For instance, at Athashri, you can pay for staff to run errands like bill payment. And there is a supermarket on intercom to make home deliveries. All the villages have ramps instead of stairs, with wheelchair access everywhere. There is skid-free flooring and handrails in the bathrooms. Net connections are available to stay in touch with children abroad.

At LIC, it’s proposed to run a full-fledged hospital, while Dignity will have a 100-bed geriatric unit with trained care, capable of handling problems like Alzheimer’s. Athashri has a clinic visited each day by one specialist doctor. Riverdale has free nursing, with medical bills up to Rs 5,000 per head covered by group insurance.

What money can’t buy. Says Shrikanth Paranjape, chairman, Paranjape Schemes: "In a senior citizens’ housing complex, 20 per cent is brick and mortar; the balance is psychological support." A special body called the Athashri Foundation has been established for cultural programmes, excursions, and movie shows for residents.

This aspect receives particular attention at Dignity Foundation. Says chairperson Sheilu Srinivasan: "It’s designed as per UN standards of active ageing where the elderly are engaged physically and mentally."

Dignity has adopted 17 villages around its Neral complex, where retirees will manage six community development projects that include micro credit finance, 100 per cent literacy, gerontology and spiritual affairs. "Our retirees are highly educated and aware. They are eager to take up something like this. The idea is to involve them in community life, not to segregate them from society," she says.

It’s this independent, productive life that today’s retirees want, backed at the same time by an efficient support system.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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