‘Assisted-living’ facilities come of age as mindsets change

'Assisted-living' facilities come of age as mindsets change

A huge map of the US hangs in the administrative office of Athashri, one of four assisted-living facilities on the outskirts of Pune. Next to it is a large world map. On any given evening, some of the 220-odd residents gather around it to point out their children’s homes. They show little dots on the map where they go to visit children and grandchildren, a home away from home—good enough for a short stay.

Their real cocoon is Athashri, run by Pune developer Paranjape Schemes Private Ltd, where they hope to spend the rest of their lives.

Faced with the prospect of creating new lives for themselves in unfamiliar cities or living in their lonely homes, a growing number of retirees are choosing to live in apartments that provide for their needs for security, medical care, company and independence.

“The biggest trend we are seeing is that senior citizens want their independence," says Kartik Jhaveri, a financial planner in Mumbai. “Ideally, they would want to live in their own house. If they cannot, they like to live in a good assisted-facility."

Pune, called pensioners’ paradise, now has at least five such facilities and has at least one more coming up. And it’s not the only city seeing the development of high end retirement facilities. States such as Goa and cities including Bangalore and Kochi, and even smaller towns with good weather and living standards, such as Matheran, Ooty and Neral, are also seeing such projects. Part of this boom in housing for retirees is being driven by an economic boom that is creating a new social landscape. Better incomes and medical facilities have pushed up life expectancy at birth to 65.3 years for women and 62.3 for men in 2001, from 44.7 years for women and 46.4 for men for the decade ended 1970, says the government.

Typically, such facilities are reserved for those over 56 years old. They have independent apartments with a range of facilities for them, such as ramps for wheelchairs, ambulances on campus, phones and panic buttons in case of emergency, physiotherapy sessions, doctors on call, housekeeping, guest rooms and security .

M.H. Dalal, a Pune-based architect, created his Golden Nest retirement facility with several elder-friendly features. This includes rounded edges, anti-skid tiles in bathrooms, shower seats and sliding doors for bathrooms so that helpers can open the door even if a resident collapses against the door. The apartments, in Pune’s tony Kalyani Nagar area, are not just furnished and serviced, they also come with a private dining room for residents to entertain in.

When Shama Vijayan, a resident who will only reveal that she is in her sixties, moved in to her furnished studio apartment in the development, she brought her Italian-made bar.

“I use it when I entertain and sometimes by myself," says the spry Vijayan, who has perfectly arched eye brows and sports orange sneakers with her jeans and electric blue top.

Shrikant Paranjape, managing director of Paranjape Schemes, says, “Many seniors move to retirement facilities because they want to have a life of their own. Women feel that they have taken care of their in-laws and parents all their lives. Now they don’t want to take the responsibility of bringing up their grandchildren. They love their grandchildren and want to indulge them but not take responsibility for them."

Further south, the story is much the same.

“After our daughter’s marriage, we were left alone in our big home with nothing to do. The silence in our house after her going abroad with her husband was frustrating," says Raghuprasad Menon. He and his wife moved to Shoba Hermitage, run by the Kurumba Trust founded by P.N.C. Menon, chairman of Shoba Developers Ltd, in Kerala’s Palakkad district. “Now... we have someone to talk to and mingle with," says Raghuprasad.

But for most people, safety is the prime reason for moving to assisted-living facilities. Many retirees also buy apartments in such facilities as investment. They stay there some months and split time with children abroad. “Having a house like this gives them confidence," says Surya Bhatia, a financial planner in Delhi. “They don’t know where children will settle down. They are willing to give living abroad a shot but want the option of not liking it."

But in spite of their recent success, retirement facilities are developing somewhat slowly, partly because moving into such a facility requires a change in the mindset of retirees, many of whom have grown up in joint families, and because of the reluctance of builders to run apartments that require service and management rather than just sale.

A sprightly 65-year-old, Lalitha Matthew is back from a long holiday in the US spent with her daughter and son-in-law, both of whom are photographers who travel extensively. As she settles down to the tempo of a much quieter life in Bangalore, where she lives alone in a centrally-located apartment, time hangs heavy on her hands. It is this need for companionship that is driving Matthew and her set of two friends to look for a quality retirement home in the city.

Brigade Group, a city-based developer that announced the launch of Brigade Serenity, a retirement home, has shelved the project. “We did not find enough interest from consumers in acquiring a retirement home unit on occupancy rights. These units were not meant for an outright sale," says Indira Sharma, vice-president, marketing, Brigade Group. The project has now been repositioned as Brigade Jasmine, one-bedroom studio apartments for the young.

LIC Care Homes in Bangalore, managed by the housing finance arm of the Life Insurance Corp., offers individual 400-800 sq. ft units on lease to those above 50 years of age. Residents who get occupancy and not ownership rights had to pay a one-time price of Rs4.98 lakh to Rs8.98 lakh depending on the size of the unit, when the project was set up in 2004. “We allow three residents per unit. Residents can have their family live alongside them, if needed," says spokesperson Gunesh Kumar. The enclave charges a monthly maintenance of Rs1,500 per month for common utility areas and has other pay-per-use common facilities.

Golden Nest’s Dalal says “there is an acute need for assisted living for seniors with a need for medical care." But he says “developers would rather not work in projects that require increased amount of service." Dalal looked around for two years before finding a supportive developer in Vascon Builder’s R. Vasudevan.

Paranjape, who already runs 1,000 such apartments and is building 500 more, says “this was a concept that was unthinkable till a few years ago. There was a stigma about living in retirement facilities because it suggested that children had been unable to take care of their parents. That is changing but it is still a hard line to cross."

At Athashri, Anand Marathe, 82, is dressed in his baseball cap and sneakers for his evening game of snooker. He plays snooker or bridge or swims every day. While he has three grown up children in Mumbai. Marathe and his wife moved to Athashri when they saw that it provided them with facilities and independence.

“My son gives me rent," he says with a grin.


Archana Rai in Bangalore contributed to this story.