Mrs and Mr Kapoor are the quintessential friendly elderly neighbours who exude compassion and warmth. From wishing the morning walkers, feeding stray dogs and participating enthusiastically in all community events, they symbolize the indulgence that grandparents are famous or infamous for. Having worked hard to secure an envious future for their children who now live in New York and Singapore respectively, they were content to spend their silver years in their ancestral home. While loneliness and the occasional inconvenience hassled them sometimes, help and companionship were always forthcoming from the community. A few months ago, a medical episode shattered their peace, but timely intervention saved Mr Kapoor from the eventuality, however, he was confined to his bed for a few weeks.
Besides, the current pandemic has completely left the elderly couple at wit’s end despite their financial resources and has forced them to rethink the choices they have made. Struggling for basics, managing without house help and fretting about handling any medical emergencies have exacerbated their need for safety, wellbeing, and companionship.
The Kapoors, however, are not alone in this struggle. They represent about 20 Mn elders who stay alone, and that number will rise exponentially in the next two decades with a majority of them not having access to any form of sustainable income. The good old joint family ecosystem has all but disintegrated exposing the vulnerability of our elderly population.
Senior care services in India are still at a nascent stage, but the demand for such services is increasing rapidly. A report by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) suggested that India’s elderly population will grow to 158 Mn by 2025. By the end of the century, seniors will constitute nearly 34 per cent of the total population of the country.1
The upward growth projections of the elderly population signify the untapped market potential that this segment holds. As a services sub-sector, senior care can become a major contributor to India’s economic growth in the next few decades.
Reshaping the future of senior living in India
While several elderly care facilities in different shapes and forms exist in the country, it is at best a fragmented ecosystem. It is both urgent and imperative that we focus on the fundamentals that facilitate the establishment and flourishing of a sustainable ecosystem. With declining fertility and improvement in life expectancy, the elderly population will see a rapid rise in the next few decades. As the current discourse is centred more around taking advantage of its demographic dividend, it is also important to take necessary steps to ensure the wellbeing and comfortable living of the elderly population and identify possible areas to derive economic value out of this segment. Here are a few steps to reshape senior living in India in the post-Covid-19 world:
Sectoral status for Senior Care
As the first step, we need to recognize senior/elder care as a sector with appropriate regulations, policy support, tax structures, availability of subsidized financing and appropriate governance mechanisms including but not limited to a separate ministry. India has long cared for its elders with constitutional mandates to support the elderly populations. Besides, India also has a National Policy on Older Persons (NPOP) announced in 1999 much before its global peers started taking elderly populations seriously. Additionally, adoption of best practices from countries like Japan who have found elegant solutions on how to address pain points of an ageing population can aid the transformation of the senior care segment into a sector. Niti Aayog is best placed to lead this transformation with the help of the existing industry players.
Sustainable income for elders
Given the shift in life expectancy but no change in retirement age, it is important to create sustainable incomes to fund the silver years of the elders. As the idea of senior care finds wider acceptance and adoption in India, financial stability will be crucial to afford these services. Appropriate financial instruments, insurance policies, to cover – health at home, rehabilitation and senior home expenses can provide adequate financial support to the elders. This will not only give the segment a boost but also attract investors including patient capital from pension funds and developed countries. Increased investment will create a competitive environment and would provide prospective customers with multiple options to choose from at affordable rates.
Quality standards for care homes
Unlike the West, quality and safety of senior living facilities remain a challenge in India with a major impact on consumer decisions. Establishing and implementing quality and certification standards across elderly care facilities will be key to ensuring adherence to minimum standards of safety, and security of elders. As India seeks to unlock the senior care market, adequate measures to ensure their safety and wellbeing will need to be put in place to drive demand and growth for the segment. With increased regulatory and policy support from the government and investment from private sector entities, the senior care segment could emerge as a sunrise industry for India.
Ensuring availability of skilled caregivers including fostering community care models will be important to provide quality services to seniors. Further, establishing geriatric care as a vertical both in nursing and medicine to address the varied healthcare needs of elders will ensure a healthy living environment for them. Asha workers and social workers can be trained at district and block levels to meet the need for a skilled workforce.
And, after much deliberation and discussion with their children, Mrs and Mr Kapoor decided to move into a senior living facility in their town. Life will be different in their new home where they will have the constant company of their peers, access to a variety of community events, workshops, and geriatric care.
The author is CEO and MD at Antara Senior Living