(Sreenath H S)
Issues of interest to senior people
The senior population in India is steadily rising. Unlike in the west, where the state takes responsibility for the welfare of the elderly people, the elderly in India have to fend for themselves. Of course, the traditional Indian joint family system and, to some extent, traditional Indian social values do come to the aid of these people in India and make up for total lack of support from Government.
But a host of factors such as nuclear families, rising affluence of senior citizens, the desire among the elderly for independence and personal space have, of late, prompted senior people to opt for specialized senior communes, where their needs are taken care of by dedicated service providers. These communes also, at the same time, provide them with the much-needed companionship that is sadly lacking in regular residential developments. This blog discusses various issues that matter to and affect senior people. The author of this blog Sreenath H S is the promoter of Sree Senior Homes that develop luxury retirement communes in Karnataka, and promote senior communities in India and provide senior care.
Sreenath H S is also a published author and a public speaker. His published works include Sir. M Visvesvaraya – His Economic Contribution and Thought, Partition and other Divisive Issues, Secularism and National Identity and a numerous essays on topics ranging from literature to litterateurs, law and architecture.
What to Look for in a Good Retirement Commune
Senior or retirement communes are gaining currency in India. This is to be expected, given the drastic changes in our social sphere in the last two decades. The families have shrunk in size, economy has grown and with it the disposable incomes of senior people, desire among the elderly for more independence and greater personal space.
Decades ago, when India was still poor, and family incomes were limited and families were large, parents had to spend every paisa they earned on their children – to feed them, to clothe them, to educate them and finally to marry them off. Limited earnings and huge expenses they had to incur to support their families, left parents very little, by way of savings, when they retired, and they were compelled to live with their children, in their senior years. The experience of living off one’s children, when one got old was not always pleasant, but circumstances and social obligations kept this uneasy arrangement going.
However, over the years, things have changed dramatically. Family incomes have substantially increased, while families them selves have shrunk in size. Parents are now no longer financially dependent on their children. With this financial freedom came the desire for greater personal space among senior people.
Concurrently with this change, another change too came about. Children, now no longer burdened with the responsibility of having to care for and support their children, became more focussed on building their careers, and became more mobile, moving as they did to distant places in search of opportunities and employment. This mobility among children left parents to their own devices, and they began to network with other similarly placed parents and formed active socially groups. This social networking, though mitigated their sense of loneliness, did not address their other concerns such as daily chores such as cooking, cleaning and washing, someone to turn to in case of medical emergencies, and ready help for a host a myriad activities that made up their humdrum lives.
Retirement communes sprung up as an answer to these two great senior needs: social life and personal safety and comforts. As a rule these communes offer a host of services and amenities specially and specifically for senior people. They generally include 24X7 power, water and security, on-site clinic, common dining room and kitchen, housekeeping services, doctor on call, and a variety of other services that make the lives of senior people secure and comfortable. They also provide residences that are senior friendly.
By definition, these communes consists of people of similar economic as well as social background. This social cohesion makes networking among the residents of a particular commune easy and group activities, a great antidote to loneliness, possible.
Of late, however, there has been a mushrooming of senior facilities, all promising great many services and claiming to be the best. While it is good to be spoilt for choice, it also make the selection of a suitable commune a little difficult. This block discusses the important aspects that one should take into account, while choosing a senior commune.
This is the first thing one has to look into. A senior commune ideally has to be located in a region which is serene, free of pollution — air, water and noise. Pollution is the number one killer today. It is the cause of many medical conditions such as acute reparatory and cardiac problems, arthurites, dementia and cancer. It is for this reason many advanced countries restrict the development of senior communes in crowded cities. It is precisely for these reasons I chose Pandavapura, one of the greenest and most scenic regions of Karnataka, with ready access to world-class medical and recreational facilities, as location for Sharadindu, uber-luxury retirement commune that my company Sree Senior Homes is developing. The location of Sharadindu is one of the major factors that have made this senior commune popular. But still many people, including well-educated people, surprise me, by enquiring if I am planning to develop a similar commune in Bangalore, one of the most polluted cities!
Medical and Recreational Facilities
The location of the commune should also have ready access to world-class medical and recreational facilities. The pertinent question here is can one quickly (within half an hour) reach a good hospital or a mall or a multiplex ? People generally fool themselves into believing that a senior commune in a crowded city will necessarily have immediate access to a good medical facility. But this a mere fallacy, given the way the traffic moves in big cities. The average vehicle speed in Bengaluru, recognised as city having the second slowest commute speed in India, is around 15 kms an hour or 0.25 kms a minute. So if a senior commune located in, say, Devanahalli or Kumbalgod at a distance of 30 kms, it takes two hours to reach downtown Bangaluru!
A senior commune has to be necessarily senior friendly. All common areas such as parks, pathways and dining room and clinic should be wheel chair accessible; bathrooms should be large and well-ventilated, with grab bars and non-slip floors. The facility should also have ample open spaces, well-laid parks and plenty of greenery around.
A senior commune, unlike regular group housing, projects, has to offer a host of facilities specially designed for senior people. Common dining facilities, on-site clinic, house keeping services, community centre with such features as auditorium, gym, library, convenience store and hobby room. A community centre is a very important feature, as it is the focal point of senior social interaction among the residents.
At the end of the day, the management of the commune is the most important aspect of a senior commune. Once the facilities are built – the brick and mortar part – and handed over, there has to be an agency that is accountable for its running and maintenance. Ask the builder how exactly they plan on managing the commune, after it is fully built and sold. Some builders plan on passing on the task of management to a third party, while others take responsibility for running the commune, even after the facility is fully built and sold. The latter model is preferable as the builder, who sold you the unit in the first place, promising various facilities and services, is willing to take full responsibility for the promises made. This should give you a great degree of comfort.
Another important consideration is the cost of maintenance. Here again different builders follow different models, which with its own advantages. But one thing that should matter most is transparency. The more the builder is willing to share information about the maintenance cost, the more reliable the model is. The most Transparent model, of course, is cost+. In this model, the builder lists out various services to be provided – kitchen and dining facilities, house- keeping, clinic, security and so on. The builder or service provider should also specify the level of services — for instance, will the clinic have only trained nurses or will also have a full-time doctor. The longer the list of services and the higher the level, the costlier is the services. Once this two aspects are finalized, the builder or the service provider will add a percentage to the total expenditure as their fee, to arrive at the total cost. This cost is then divided among the residents in proportion to the area of each house or on prorate basis.
Always note that the cost of services is linked to the general inflation and increased cost of services on account of increase in wages, salaries and taxes. If any builder or services provider promises that the maintenance cost is fixed for life, avoid them. Clearly their model is not economically viable and they are trying to take you for a ride.
There are many other considerations that may influence one’s choice of a senior living facility, but the ones discussed above are the most important.