Renu Sud Sinha & Seema Sachdeva
When Dehradun-based Sudha Bhasin’s octogenarian husband fell down twice within 24 hours last September, he had a major shoulder and hip fracture. A surgery was performed immediately, but the real problem began when he was to be discharged in November. The couple’s two sons, one based in Goa and the other in Delhi, had their jobs to go back to, but the father had a long road to recovery ahead. He would need help and care, something that Sudha (76) could not provide alone. Taking them to either Delhi or Goa would not have helped the already busy lives of the siblings, so the pragmatic sons looked for a solution. As luck would have it, it lay right next door at Antara homes in Purukul, Dehradun.
Initially renting an apartment there, their eldest son bought a one-room apartment at the facility five months later, not regretting for a moment thereafter. Says Sudha, “My husband is recuperating well and now walks with assistance, with a physio visiting us daily. The house is deep-cleaned every day. Though we eat at the restaurant, I sometimes cook but never have to wash a dish. From medicines to food, groceries, laundry and hospital visits, everything is micro-managed. When my relatives visit, they exhort us to permanently settle in these serene surroundings; we may do just that.”
For Delhi-based Anita Maitra (66) and her husband, Covid-19 was the deciding factor behind moving in here. “My husband has had Parkinson’s for 14 years. During the lockdown, with no help, taking care of the huge house as well as my husband was a gargantuan task. In February 2021, I spotted an advertisement about this facility. On an impulse, I clicked. A two-day trip to the facility was immediately arranged and three months later, we sold off our Vasant Vihar house and shifted here. My daughter didn’t speak to me for weeks, but is now keen to settle here,” smiles Anita.
“Rui mein lapet ke rakhte hain. I don’t have to lift a finger. The diet is wholesome, no refined flour or oil. Life feels beautiful among like-minded people. My husband can walk freely on the campus without the fear of traffic. It feels safer and I sometimes go out on my own as the staff never leave my husband alone,” says Anita.
India’s grey population is on the rise but the pandemic has brought the focus on problems faced by the elderly. A recent Antara survey among senior citizens found a rise in mental health issues (57 per cent), limited access to proper healthcare (70 per cent), dependence on family (70 per cent) and fear of social isolation (58 per cent).
A subsidiary of Max India Ltd, Antara’s MD & CEO Rajit Mehta says, “We came up with the first project in Dehradun in 2017. It’s a $10-15 billion market. Senior care at home forms the biggest chunk. Assisted living opportunity was about $1.1 billion until December 2019. By 2050, there would be 30 crore senior citizens.”
And the group is catering to the rising need. It has two assisted living projects coming up in Noida and Gurugram and is exploring Amritsar and Chandigarh. “There are 38 lakh cases of mental cognitive diseseseas at present. We have 200 memory care beds in NCR to cater to dementia patients and are planning to expand it to 2,000 in five years,” adds Mehta. The accommodation at Antara, Dehradun, is available from Rs 2.5 crore to Rs 8.5 crore. The basic service package starts at Rs 1 lakh plus. The upcoming Noida project has flats starting from Rs 1.44 crore to Rs 2.77 crore.
Apart from permanent residency, most care homes offer temporary solutions, from long recuperation after surgeries to short stays for the elderly when family/caregivers have to go on trips.
The stigma attached to seniors living away from homes has long been responsible for the hesitancy towards community living, but this thinking is changing, says Mukesh Anand, honorary director, Heavenly Palace in Doraha, Ludhiana. “We started 12 years back with 30 residents. Today, 361 persons are living here, who pay us Rs 17,000-Rs 48,000 per month for the facilities. We intend to take the number up to 500 with our latest signature villa option that will open in December.”
“Women, especially homemakers, often don’t get a break even after their husbands retire. Community living lets both enjoy a retired lifestyle,” adds Anand.
Retired bank employee Jagdish Gupta (76) and his wife Sushil (73) have been living at the Doraha facility for a decade now. The deciding factor for this child-less couple to move in from their house in Pathankot was the erratic availability of house helps, besides maintenance issues. Says Jagdish, “We have had more time for ourselves. Since moving in, we have holidayed in Dubai, Malaysia, Singapore, and Nepal, besides Phuket and Pattaya in Thailand.” The couple celebrated their golden jubilee in 2018, which was attended by US-based Anil Monga, chairman of the DBC Trust that manages the facility.
For CA Jambukeswaran (52), sending his 83-year-old mother to the assisted-facility being offered by Ashiana Housing in Bhiwadi, nearly 60 km from Gurugram, three years back was a practical choice. “Everyone in our family has high-pressure jobs and there’s hardly any time to be at home. For six months, we struggled with caregivers but found it impossible to monitor them. Mostly they remain on phones and are not attentive to the elders. The facilities are expensive but at least she’s getting quality care 24x7. We go and meet her whenever we can,” he says.
Says Ankur Gupta, joint managing director of Ashiana Housing which offers both independent as well as assisted living housing facilities in Bhiwadi, Lavasa (Pune), Jaipur and Chennai: “Those in assisted living are mostly above 85, with children in their 50s or 60s, who are not in a position to take care of the elderly. We take extra care of dementia patients so they don’t get lost.” While their independent houses cost between Rs 30 lakh and Rs 1.5 crore, their ‘lease-for-life’ for assisted living costs Rs 5 -Rs 7 lakh (50 per cent refundable), with monthly charges of Rs 45,000-Rs 1.25 lakh.
The demand for elderly community living in states like Kerala, which has the maximum population of senior citizens in the country, grew massively during the pandemic. Nithin Rajan’s Ananta Living in Palakkad, which opened in April this year, was in response to this demand. The facility has more than 70 seniors availing of their 2BHK accommodation that costs between Rs 55 lakh and Rs 65 lakh. Says Nithin, “Not just children, seniors too need their space but also require care and attention with dignity. The facility is designed keeping their needs in mind. From no round-door knobs to emergency alarms and wide corridors for simultaneous movement of two wheelchairs, besides easy accessibility through slopes, care has been taken to make the place geriatric-friendly. The kitchen permits induction cooking, though no LPG to avoid any accidental fire. In any case, all three meals are provided by the facility.”
For the big chunk of elders who do not want to leave the comfort of their homes, there are start-ups like Emoha. Fuelled by the pandemic crisis, the app launched in 2019 has seen more than a lakh downloads till date. This virtual genie, with its 24x7 help desk, offers any and every assistance that an elderly may need — from providing doctors, nurses, sending ambulances in emergency to setting up healthcare appointments and customised services such as help in getting pension, insurance, passport/visa to running errands. The subscription plan ranges from Rs 99 a month to Rs 1,999 a month, with over 5,000 subscribers. Many 70 plus opt for the premium plan, which has an ‘Emoha daughter’ taking care of you just like your own daughter, says Sama Beg, chief product officer, Emoha.
Gurguram-based Sagarika Mukherjee (72) is one satisfied Emoha member. “My husband has Alzheimer’s. The app has come in handy thrice in medical emergency when no one else came to help. Once I even called them to help a neighbour who wasn’t a member,” Mukherjee adds.
SeniorWorld is another online platform working to make life easy for senior citizens. Launched in 2015, founders Rahul Gupta and MP Deepu initially started with an ‘easyfone’(Rs 2,000-Rs 6,000) as many seniors weren’t comfortable with smartphones. Their product has a user-friendly interface. The platform has expanded to provide security products, conduct free tech classes, talks, music, dance and yoga classes. “Our online classes during the lockdown helped members beat loneliness. A large number of travel-related queries led us to arrange trips for senior citizens. Post-pandemic, these queries are coming in again,” says Vandana Gupta, vice-president (product and community services), SeniorWorld, whose Facebook page has over three lakh followers.
Gurugram-based Paramjit Kharal (70) has been on 11 trips with SeniorWorld since 2016. “I have been to foreign trips arranged by international travel companies, but find these better executed. Their guides are more patient and polite than even our own kids.” Dehradun-based Pardeep Maithel, a retired ONGC officer, feels the same about tech classes conducted by SW. “Our young hosts patiently teach us about using Ola/Uber, Google Maps, online shopping, avoiding online frauds, WhatsApp features, solving storage problems in our phones and much more.”
Goodfellows is another recent addition that aims to provide meaningful companionship to the elderly. Launched last month by Shantanu Naidu, general manager in the office of Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of Tata Sons, the start-up was seed funded by Tata. “Living alone in Mumbai during the lockdown, I was dependent on my elderly neighbours to feed me. While the time I spent with them enriched my life, I realised that it helped them beat the loneliness blues. The bonding enriched both, inspiring me to take it to the next level.” Based on common interests, graduates from 18 to 30 are paired with subscriber senior citizens. The service is free for the first month, after which they charge a nominal fee. “Our goodfellows accompany the elderly to doctor/hospital, dinner, movies/beach, anywhere they want. We have had a test run of nearly a year and the trials have 100 per cent conversion,” adds Naidu.
For those living on the other side of the money divide, HelpAge India has been helping. The organisation has seven dedicated homes across India and tie-ups with 300 others across India. Dr Imtiaz Ahmed, mission head, says, “A large number of Indians work in the unorganised sector, compelling them to work beyond the age of retirement. During the pandemic, many lost jobs and as a result, their homes as well. We come to the aid of such people by providing them shelter and food, besides other needs.” Bhavneswar Sharma, the organisation’s state head in Chandigarh, says, “Most people have been victims of abuse or have lost sons to drug overdose.”
In North India, it has two dedicated homes — at Patiala and Gurdaspur. Raksha Rani (65), who has been living for five years in the home at Patiala, is grateful. “Khana, kapda, dawai, medical check-up, sab time par milta hai. We are well taken care of.” The facility has a dedicated staff of nine, including an assistant physiotherapist and two more persons living on the premises round-the-clock. A major challenge that the organisation faces is lack of sustainable CSR funding, as most of it is a one-time affair.
Among the upcoming facilities for senior citizens in the region is Vishranti in Palampur, being constructed by Vivekananda Medical Research Trust. Its chairman, former Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Shanta Kumar, says that an increasing number of elderly are living alone in the hills. The subsidised facility will tentatively be inaugurated on January 12, 2023. The connectivity with a nearby helipad will be an added advantage, he says.
As a grey tsunami gathers on India’s horizon, many are readying to meet the challenge, including those like yet-to-retire Himanshu Jain, president (Indian region), Diversey, who has already bought a retirement home in Noida.
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