Go for silver

Sep 02, 2012, 08:23 IST | Nivedita Dargalkar

One million adult diapers in a month and five lakh applications for retirement homes across the country � that's how mind bogglingly large the market is for specialised products and services for senior citizens in India. Little wonder then, that manufacturers are waking up to the potential of a hitherto-untapped sector

The market for aging has finally come of age,” says Dr Sheilu Sreenivasan, founder president, Dignity foundation, an NGO that works for senior citizens. Sreenivasan, a social entrepreneur, was busy finalising plans and blueprints for the second and third phase of her retirement township project — Dignity Lifestyle, when we met her at the first phase of the township at Neral on a rainy Thursday afternoon.

Alan Chatterjee
Alan Chatterjee, who stays at an apartment at Dignity Lifestyle in Neral enjoys gardening at the retirement township. Pics/ Sameer Markande

“In all, we are building 290 cottages for senior citizens by 2013. A hundred and twenty of these have already been booked,” says the 62 year-old social entrepreneur. It’s easy to see why. A township meant for senior citizens, the project is built over 25 acres of land near picturesque Matheran. As I walk into one of the apartments, I am drawn to the fragrance of blossoming flowers from the garden outside the room. Each apartment in the township has a breathtaking view of the plush mountains and a private garden for each resident where they can grow their own fruits and flowers.

When I visit, the township is buzzing with residents who are busy making grocery lists for their weekly shopping visit to Inorbit Mall at Vashi. Some even have plans to catch the latest flick at its multiplex. Not at all like the sad, uninviting space that’s the popular perception of old age homes, fed by cinema and soppy TV serials. The current retirement township at Neral contains 62 cottages and also houses senior citizens who require special care for severe medical conditions like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Retd (Col) A Shreedharan, whose Covai Property Centre is planning massive retirement townships across Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pondicherry and Coimbatore in the coming year says, “By 2013, we plan to build around 3,500 retirement homes for senior citizens. However, demand far exceeds supply. The current demand in the pan-Indian market is for about five lakh homes.” For a concept only introduced in India in 2000, retirement homes seem to have caught on unexpectedly well. Wing Commander Alan Chatterjee, a 66 year-old retired Air force pilot who lives at an apartment at Dignity Lifestyle at Neral, attributes it to the convenience.

Usha Mantri
Usha Mantri, the first resident of Dignity Lifestyle, enjoys a panoramic view of the hills from her apartment balcony

“Senior citizens themselves are opting for a relaxed lifestyle. A retirement township is different from an old age home. We have excellent facilities at our service here, from housekeeping to room service to recreation. Food is also taken care of,” he says enthusiastically. Seventy two year-old TR Amarendra Rao seconds him with, “The township has a doctor on call for 24 hours. They have a medical staff of 33 members including doctors and nurses and an emergency ambulance service too. All these things make me feel secure.”

Neither of the gentlemen seems overtly perturbed by the fact that they are living here, rather than with their children, usually considered the norm. Says Chatterjee, “It’s not like we are cut off from our children. We can always visit them or they can visit us when they want. Besides, the township management keeps our kith and kin informed about our health or any other major happening.”

Others, like Usha Mantri, who was the first resident of this township, back in 2006, made the decision to move out on her own. “I believe in the spiritual concept of four-fold Ashramas. A person after a certain age, has to detach herself from worldly relationships,” she says, confidently. “As senior citizens, we have a different set of issues to deal with, and it helps if you live amongst your age group. Your neighbour may be facing similar emotional and psychological challenges and you can empathise with him/ her,” is her matter-of-fact response to my question about living here instead of with her family.

Specially for seniors
Sreenivasan is not surprised at the way this trend has taken off in a society that traditionally looks down upon retirement homes as abandonment. “Companies are slowly waking up to the fact that senior citizens are a big chunk of the market. Specialised products and services for senior citizens is the need of the hour,” says Sreenivasan, who felt the first such surge of interest in all matters silver during a Retirement Expo, which the Foundation had organised in October 2011 across five cities.

Dr Sheilu Sreenivasan
Dr Sheilu Sreenivasan, founder president, Dignity Foundation. Pic/ Sameer Markande

“Senior citizens no longer look upon shacking up in an exclusive facility made for their needs as abandonment by their children, but view retirement homes as dignified spaces for their autumnal years where support systems are provided at a cost. The people I met at the expo appeared to be in touch with reality, and understood that their children may no longer be able to care for them,” she adds. The crowds that thronged stalls at the Retirement India Expo, are a testimony to the change in mindset of both — vendors and customers. “The use of new terminology — ‘retirement homes’ versus old age homes might have had a part to play too. All the homes stalls at the Expo registered unprecedented sales in Chennai, Bangalore and Pune,” says Sreenivasan.

Celebrating age
Along similar lines, Vision India, a social entrepreneurial organisation, is all set to organise a mega expo across eight cities from September 1 to October 21 called Celebrating Age. Around 30 manufacturers will showcase services and products especially meant for senior citizens. “The market is currently abuzz with the rise of the senior citizen as a new customer. Senior citizens themselves want products and services that can ease their lifestyle, while the market is grabbing this burgeoning profit-making opportunity,” says Janki Raman, CEO, Vision India. The Celebrating Age expo will host 30 product manufacturers and service providers from across categories like banking, real estate, insurance, health services and tours and travels.

T R Amarendra Rao
T R Amarendra Rao in his apartment at Dignity Lifestyle township in Neral. He says he feels secure here amidst the services that are provided to him

“We will also have manufacturers with innovative mobility products specially designed for senior citizens who find it difficult to walk,” adds Raman. Callidai Motor works for example, will exhibit a special portable wheelchair for senior citizens that can be folded into a bag. Says Pramod Singh, assistant sales engineer, Callidai Motor works, “The wheelchair weighs only nine kg and can be of great help to senior citizens who feel that mobility comes in their way of enjoying life to the fullest.”

A first in India
Kamal Johari, whose company Nobel Hygiene was the first to start manufacturing adult diapers in March 2011 in India, is of the same opinion, “We were the first company to introduce the concept of adult diapers in India in 2000. Back then, we imported the diapers from China.” However, realising the potential this sort of product had in the country, Nobel decided to start manufacturing adult diapers locally, out of their Goa-based factory, in March 2011.
Bipin Vengsarkar, president, sales and marketing, Nobel Hygiene, says, “We sell around a million adult diapers throughout India every month. There is a huge market for the product amongst senior citizens.”

Beyond homes
Understandably therefore, at the Retirement Expo, products weren’t limited just to retirement homes. “We had a host of manufacturers who exhibited products and services specifically meant for senior citizens. We had banks offering investment schemes specifically for senior citizens, insurance companies with special health policies for the aged, and travel companies that were organising special tours for senior citizens with a doctor onboard to attend to any medical emergencies,” adds Sreenivasan.

Sreenivasan says she was also pleasantly surprised to see popular magazine Reader’s Digest come up with a larger printed version of their editions, in order to make it more readable for senior citizens. “Readers Digest has been printing editions with larger fonts since 1960 in the US, which they exhibited at the expo,” she explains.

Have money, have needs
Himanshu Rath, founder president, Agewell Foundation, a Delhi-based NGO which works for the betterment of the lives of senior citizens, says, “Seventy per cent of properties in the country are owned by senior citizens who see it as a great investment option, as compared to the younger generation who prefer other means of investment. Hence product manufacturers and service providers have realised that senior citizens have immense financial power. So you now find products that are modified as per the requirements of senior citizens — from special bathroom fittings to camera locks for their

Rath, who runs a nation-wide helpline and also an employment exchange service for senior citizens, says, “We have placed around 40,000 senior citizens in the capacities of managers, supervisors and tutors. And the numbers will only go up. Currently, we have three lakh applications pending from senior citizens wanting to work even after their retirement.” Why are persons in the silver innings of their life opting to take up jobs even after retirement? “Some are looking for economic independence, while for others, it is important to have the ability to be able to financially support their family even after retirement,” explains Rath. 

Silver needs
> Adult diapers are absorbent pads for senior citizens. They are of great help for senior citizens who suffer from involuntary urination while sneezing, etc
> Retirement homes are a relatively new concept in India. The homes, which are specially designed keeping in mind the needs of senior citizens. They offer food, recreation, housekeeping and even room service
> Mobility Instruments are special devices that aid senior citizens who find it difficult to walk, such as wheelchairs, walking enablers, etc

Number crunching
> As per the United Nation’s Population Division figures of 2006, there are 690 million people over the age of sixty years in the world
> This means 11 per cent of the total world population comprises senior citizens
> The United Nations defines senior citizens as those above the age of 60 years. This population will grow to 2 billion people by 2050, that is 22 per cent of the total world population 

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