When Mumbai housewife Lalita Bhardwaj turned 65, she asked her husband for an unusual gift — an old age home.
After a bit of convincing, her husband Seshadri Bhardwaj, 76, agreed to sell their Mumbai apartment and move to a retirement home complete with housekeeping, catering and doctor-on-call.
The couple has now been happily living in their new home in the foothills of the Nilgiris in the southern Indian city of Coimbatore for the past four years.
"I was tired of cooking, cleaning and paying utility bills. Now I have finally found myself. Life is about annual visits to my children abroad, playing scrabble, reading and nature walking," Lalita Bhardwaj said.
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"It is an added bonus that cost of living in Coimbatore is 33 percent cheaper than Mumbai; there is no air or noise pollution, the weather is more pleasant, and you are with like-minded people," she added.
A survey conducted by real estate consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) last year involving 52 million urban households in 135 Indian towns and cities found that 24 percent or 12 million households had seniors above 65 years living in retirement homes. It also concluded that demand for such accommodation was estimated at 132,000 units.
India is not alone when it comes to a preference among the elderly to break away from tradition and live separately from their children. Retirees from Singapore to Shanghai are adapting to a life on their own in their sunset years.
While India still boasts of a young population — its median age is 28 — the rest of Asia is aging fast and this in turn will boost demand for retirement homes, say experts.
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Asia will account for 63 percent of the world's total senior population by 2050 — a market worth $1.9 trillion, according to the Asia-Pacific Silver Economy Business Report published by Ageing Asia last year, a Singapore-based market research and consultancy focused on the silver economy.
"This is the single biggest opportunity in emerging Asia for real estate players, health care operators, financial industry and more," said Janice Chua, founder of Ageing Asia.
Those in the top 20 percent income bracket would gladly part with their savings to live in retirement homes, according to Tan Ki Hian, a senior living consultant, who is looking to set up a retirement village in Singapore.
As a result lifestyle-oriented retirement homes are springing up all over Asia, in China, India, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Malaysia. According to a 2011 report on foreign investment in China's retirement sector by law firm Clifford Chance, China is currently carrying out the most far-reaching reform of its healthcare sector, with retirement homes a priority sector for private investment.
"The one-child policy in China has created a dependence ratio of six elderly on a single individual, creating a huge demand for self-sustaining retirement homes," said businessman Patrick Cheung, who has set up Jade club in Hong Kong to mobilize investments into elderly care in Asia.
Cashing in on this opportunity to house the elderly, lower-cost Asian countries like Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam are targeting the affluent retirees in Singapore and Japan where high cost of land and living may be entry barriers.
One such condominium style old age village — Platinum Residences — is being built by Malaysia Pacific Corporation, within close proximity of a hospital in the Iskander region to attract well-off elderly Singaporeans at a lower cost than in their own country, according to media reports.
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The Philippines is also wooing Japanese with a retirement village on the Tablas island, 350 miles from Manila, complete with a Japanese restaurant, nursing and security staff, said media reports.
Even in India, local real estate players are luring the 65-plus with luxury retirement homes that provide facilities like a health club, business center, eateries and a travel desk.
One such project is Seattle-based elderly care management firm One Eighty's joint venture with Aamoksh Leisure Living to set up villas in Kodaikanal, in south India.
"Our key differentiating factor is that we want to make old age fun. We will be the Club Med of senior living," said Sumer Datta, co-founder of Aamoksh-One Eighty.
According to the JLL report, there are currently at least 15 retirements home project in various phases of construction all over India. It is clearly an idea whose time has arrived.