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Senior living communities: The key to a senior friendly ecosystem

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Rajit Mehta, MD and CEO, Antara highlights the need for friendly ecosystem for elderly population in India

The elderly population in India – which grew at a pace three times the general population during the last two decades (2011-2021) – is a mushrooming demographic reality. Replete with its unique characteristics, challenges, and opportunities, population ageing is an inevitable demographic reality owing to the gradual improvement in the country’s overall health and medical care system.

With a fast-evolving population, about 138 million as per the latest publication of India’s Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, the elderly today do not wish to miss out on any opportunity to thrive in their silver years. Whether it involves spending more on themselves or transitioning into newer social set-ups, the senior citizens are not shying away from exploring novel lifestyles.

As smartphone and social media penetration make inroads, the discerning consumer in a senior citizen gains more familiarity with such novel options. However, as this population is forecasted to reach close to 200 million in the next decade, an evident demand-supply mismatch emerges. An ailing healthcare infrastructure, severely dented by the COVID-19 pandemic, laid bare the country’s existing capacities.

If the first lockdown in 2020 made it difficult for the elderly, who struggled with elementary chores such as getting medicines, groceries, essentials, and unavailability of house helps, the disastrous second wave in April-May has left them deeply distressed and depressed considering the magnitude of lives lost.

While last years’ experience exposed the crevices in the social and familial setup when it came to taking responsibility for the elderly and cases of abandonment, the recent second wave made them more fearful and averse to even stepping outside due to the possibility of catching the virus once the lockdown was lifted. Mental health, plagued by loneliness and the distressing news all around, has taken a toll.

Therefore, it is now more necessary than ever to germinate ideas that work in tandem with the interests of the senior population.

Does the answer lie in dedicated senior living communities?

Such communities do have the merits for them to be considered a genuine option, one that brings forth the immense scope of growth and innovation. India’s senior care industry is yet to be explored in-depth, leaving a lot of room for those who not only conceive ideas but also execute them with full conviction.

Senior living communities are one of the more dependable options for the elderly, as they aim to provide 360-degree solutions. Highly skilled staff, state-of-the-art facilities, on-site health services catering to both the health and well-being of the seniors, among others are some of the attributes these communities bring to the table. For instance, residences at Antara’s Senior Living facility in Purukul, near Dehradun, are articulately designed with rounded edges of the walls, special handles, large doors for passing wheelchairs and stretchers, to make them senior-friendly. Each residence comes with a panic button that enables a quick response during exigencies.

Since these communities or living facilities are tailormade for senior citizens, most of the population residing in them is not stressed by sundries such as cost of healthcare, visit the doctor, maintenance of the occupied areas, food preferences, etc.

Apart from these apparent tangible features, senior living communities also create an intangible and less visible social support system for the elderly. They fill the social void – developing from the lack of companionship and empathy from peers in a regular residential complex – by stimulating an ecosystem that is buttressed by trust, the willingness to care and listen, and does not leave anyone alone.

This addresses the problems of loneliness, abandonment, and depression – cases of which are on the rise – among senior citizens. In addition to having their peers just a door away, seniors have the option to opt for multiple activities and services specially curated for them. Such communities, which generally have common amenities such as restaurants, clubs, etc. to encourage congregation which fosters a sense of belonging in the community and keeps social isolation at bay.

As India stares at the third COVID-19 wave, such community living set-ups – permanent or temporary, short stay or long – can go a long way in complementing the other essential senior-care solutions. However, this requires the development of dedicated services with skilling of labour and increased awareness of the existing services and solutions. Such dedicated setups will play a pivotal role in the well-being of senior citizens over the next decade as the population ages and will help in reducing the burden on resources and spending on geriatric healthcare.

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