India’s elderly population (aged 60 and above) is projected to touch 194 million in 2031 from 138 million in 2021, a 41 per cent increase over a decade, per a recent National Statistical Office report.
Among states, Kerala currently has the highest elderly population (16.5 per cent), followed by Tamil Nadu (13.6 per cent); Himachal Pradesh (13.1 per cent); Punjab (12.6 per cent); and Andhra Pradesh (12.4 per cent).
The report flagged concerns around an ageing population and stressed the need for the country to plan for a changing population structure.
Anjali Nair, Chief Operating Officer of Kerala-based Season Two Senior Living (SP Life Care Pvt Ltd) shared these concerns in a chat with BusinessLine. Sajan Pillai, the former CEO of digital transformation solutions provider UST, is the Chairman and Founder of the company.
“Season Two Living seeks to open up a new phase of life to senior citizens – ‘unretirement living’. Along with Asset Homes, it will launch modern senior living spaces in Kochi and will subsequently expand to Thiruvananthapuram, Bengaluru and other metropolitan cities in the next few years,” said Nair.
What is the impact of Covid-19 on the senior living segment?
Today, we do not have senior living communities to cater to even two per cent of this population. Lack of emergency response infrastructure and inadequate support systems has given rise to a huge demand for senior living spaces since the onset of the pandemic.
Assisted living, in particular, has seen a great demand over the last year. It has huge potential since it enjoys only a one per cent share of the real estate market.
Assurance of on-property medical and domestic support, advantages of community living, and being socially connected have been key factors driving the demand for senior living facilities.
The need for homes in a set up where these factors are taken care of is now undeniable. People have started to accept senior living communities as a need, and are beginning to move away from outdated taboos of ‘old age home’ and beginning to associate it with ‘retirement living’.
Is there need to reinvent physical spaces and processes to cope with Covid-19 and future contingencies?
It is essential to evolve with the changing times and always be prepared to pivot. There will always be a constant need to reinvent processes. Covid-19 has just made it even more pressing.
Mainstream infrastructure, mobility and processes here are hardly senior-friendly. The pandemic has just brought many difficulties for our seniors to the forefront. We now realise that our physical spaces and processes have not accommodated seniors or assured them independent and active life.
In such a situation, it is important to reinvent physical spaces and processes to facilitate a safe and convenient life for the elderly. As a senior living facility, we have risen to this need to continue being a safe and hassle-free haven for our residents.
Is senior living an under-served alternate asset class in Kerala, despite the high population of elders? Is cost a limiting factor?
More than costs, I feel that the stigma attached to senior living, cultural beliefs, and a lack of familiarity with the system may have restrained new entrants from embracing it.
Lack of demand for other real estate segments, too has, triggered many to move into senior living today. The focus has mostly been on infrastructure rather than service excellence.
Families continue to rate senior living communities like regular real estate, comparing real estate amenities provided by different operators. Instead, they should focus on services and capabilities to provide continuous care.
Do you look at a combination of senior living, assisted living, and memory care (Alzheimer’s and dementia) services and retirement homes?
A senior living community can never be envisioned to deal only with independent living. Season Two is already a combination of independent living, assisted living and continuous care. All our homes will be equipped to cater to these basic needs.
We have a trained and experienced team of caregivers to cater to any special needs of residents as they age, including memory care services. These caregivers help reduce the frustrations of the elderly, and help them with their daily routine and make them feel safe and taken care of.
Are you getting queries from other than the 65+ age group, perhaps younger aspirants?
In fact, we have been receiving enquiries from seniors who have just retired and want to move in the next day. They would like to move in as a group with friends and colleagues. Since our current facilities were running the full house, we had to keep these on hold.
But the two new communities that we have just opened in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi should be able to cater to 80 people at the least. People in their late 40s and early 50s have also started discussing and planning for senior living amongst friends and family.
Are senior living apartments available on the lease mode, too?
Yes, we do offer apartments on lease. We have different configurations based on the facility size, location and amenities provided. Details are available on our website (www.seasontwo.com).
What are the technology options to connect elder residents with friends, family or even health or counselling experts?
In terms of digital connectivity, our communities are equipped with the latest video conferencing facilities and all rooms and common areas are covered by free WiFi and available to all residents.
We offer multiple devices, both common and individual, for connecting with and healthcare professionals. We have acquainted residents with social media apps and video calling facilities on smartphones. Caregivers assist them in using these facilities.
Continued learning, teaching and exchange of ideas are also encouraged to empower the elderly digitally. We provide work desks for those who wish to continue with their profession.
Medical facilities are perhaps first on the list when people look at senior living facilities…
Seniors do not wish for a hospital-like environment and only want the assurance that there will be someone to catch them if they fall, hold them if they need help and take them to the hospital if a need arises. Having said that, a senior living community can never replace or stand in for a hospital.
On the other hand, we maintain tie-ups with leading hospitals in places we operate to ensure priority services. Our team of nurses are available round the clock, checking vitals every day. Doctor visits are scheduled twice a week, along with assistance for hospital visits, if needed.
What are your growth and investment plans and expansion?
We have already invested in 22 acres of prime real estate to construct custom senior living communities for our elder population. Each of these properties will be equipped to cater to at least 300 to 700 seniors at a time. In addition, we plan to lease properties across the country with a community in major cities.
We will extend this model outside India, with presence in major cities where seniors need us most. Our vision is to allow seniors to move from one city to another, stay always at a Season Two facility where it feels just like home, and are recognised and taken care of as if they were in their home community.