Top 5 things to look for in a retirement community

bbcWith changing times come new challenges.  And new challenges require us to break the old rules and mindset and think differently.

It is now time that older Indians seriously start considering moving into retirement communities.  With children and family spread around the world and infrastructure and general support being poor, the thought of moving into a retirement community should not be anathema to us anymore.  However, finding a good retirement community that not only meets your needs today but will be able to take care of you as you age is not easy.  Here are 5 things you need to consider when reviewing a retirement community:

1.  Location.
Find a retirement community that is in your home state – this will eliminate a lot of language and cultural issues.  Look for homes that are not too remote, have temperate climate through out the year (warmer better than cooler as you age, so if you have to decide between a place that gets hot in summer versus one that gets cold in winter, go with the former), have good hospitals and medical facilities nearby, in proximity to a city and well connected by road, rail and air.

2. Real estate vs. real service
Many real estate companies position their new properties as retirement communities as a way of finding new customers.  These companies are neither geared to build apartments that are suitable for senior citizens not are they capable of running retirement homes efficiently.  Once you have bought your home, they will leave you to fend for yourself.

When looking for a retirement community choose an organization that has a track record in running retirement homes. Find out what plans they have in terms of continued operations.  Preferably choose one that is already operational so that you can see them in action before committing.  The services that they offer should include general maintenance, house keeping, laundry services, food and kitchen services, medical attention and services, and completed assisted living services (even if you don’t need many of these services yet).

3.  Privacy and activities
Where budgets allow, always choose homes that balance your privacy and social activity nicely.  Neither secluded apartments nor dormitory style accommodation is suitable.  Ideally singles should have studio apartments and couple should have a 1 or 2-bedroom apartment with a functional kitchen.  This way, you can choose solitude when you want.

Additionally, the retirement community should provide sufficient social activity so that residents can be active, make new friends and enjoy each others’ company.  In later years, loneliness is the biggest enemy.

4.  Price point and models
Many retirement communities provide options to outright purchase apartments, lease long and short term as well as rental options.  Each of these have their pros and cons and you should consider each of these options carefully before deciding what is right for you. Also remember, there is one other cost component which is the monthly maintenance cost.  Depending on the services you take on, this could be anywhere between Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 1,00,000.  Typical services include general maintenance, house keeping, laundry services, kitchen services, medical assistance and complete assisted living and there is cost associated with each of these services.

5. Services.
It is actually quite amazing how many different services we need to lead a normal life.  And since you are likely to be in a gated community, it is important that all these services are available to you when you need them. More of the services a retirement community provides, the better for you.  A typical list of services provided should include all or most of the following:

In the apartment
Studio Apartment/One Bedroom Apartment/Two Bedroom Apartment
Emergency Call System
Full Kitchen
Keep pets

Ambulation support
Assisted Living
Incontinence Management
Diabetes Care
Independent Living
Medication Management
Memory Care

Fitness Room
Outside Patio
Parking Provided
Private Dining Room
TV and Media Room

24 Hour Staffing
Beauty/Barber Shop
Dedicated Concierge
Fitness Program
Full-Time Activity Director
Guest Meals
Personal Laundry
Linen Services
Personal Transportation Provided
Restaurant-style Dining
Spiritual Services
Three Meals Daily
Transportation to Medical Appointments

Physical therapy, Occupational therapy, and Speech therapy
Billiards room
Guest/visitor stay facilities

On top of it all, you should have all the freedom you deserve.  You should be able to order and eat what you want (within your own dietary limitations), have access to non-vegetarian dishes (if you are non-veg), have the ability to travel out without restrictions, leave on extended vacations if you so wish (while your apartment is taken care of), have access to a bar/alcohol if you wish, have people visit you without restriction and so on.

Moving into a retirement community is the second best thing to having your family around you all the time. Retirement communities can help you lead a productive and active life and your children will know you have access to all the care that you need.


How safe is your capital?

Safety of capital will be on top of the financial priority list of a retired individual/senior citizen; and rightly so. With limited means of cash flows, safeguarding the capital, which would provide some income by way of interest, is important.

And yet, have the typical safe modes such as deposits offered you enough by way of return? Not so in recent years suggests this data from JP Morgan Asset Management. Across the Asian countries mentioned below, deposit rates managed to beat inflation and leave you with some surplus (returns mentioned below are deposit rates post yearly inflation) until 2007.


Source: Asia Outlook Q1 2013 report of JP Morgan Asset Management

However, since the start of the economic slowdown in 2008, most Asian countries have seen either lower interest rates and low growth or high inflation. As a result, investors in deposits have ‘negative real returns’. For India, rising prices were higher than deposit rates by 1.9%. Simply put, the interest income from deposits has not helped you keep pace with rising cost of goods. Net result, you would have had to dig in to your capital/savings to meet it. Now in a way, that too amounts to erosion of capital does it not? That means, while you may not lose your capital through risky investments, you lose it to a lethal force called inflation.

Way out?

But what choice do you have to combat this? Not much but here are a few suggestions: Ensure that you diversify your investments across a few products. Of course, you do not have to compromise on the quantum of risk you can take. If you want only debt products, look beyond bank deposits. There would be times when top-rated bonds and debentures come up with good rates. Be on the look-out and lock into them. Keep a demat account ready for this purpose as most bonds require you to have a demat account. Explore corporate deposits in credit worthy companies that are rated. Avoid going for unrated companies unless you have knowledge on the financials of such companies.

Ensure that instruments have high credit rating such as AAA before you invest either in bonds or deposits. Look for short-term debt mutual funds that have delivered not less than 7 per cent annually in the past and have at least a three-year record. Use systematic transfer plan in these options if you wish to get a steady payout.

Even with all this, there is no guarantee that you will successfully combat inflation. The fact is that if you had a sufficiently large corpus, you can simply park your money in instruments that earn 6-7 per cent and still not worry too much about erosion in capital.

But such a corpus could have been built only if you had invested in asset classes such as equities and real estate early on in life. If you have missed the bus, advice your children to invest early, invest systematically and in inflation-beating asset classes. They can always move their money later to deposits, when their risk-taking ability diminishes.

This article has been written by Vidya Bala of our financial advisory team.  Write to if you would like us to answer any of your questions or address a specific topic..

Battery operated buggy services at railway stations for senior citizens

A battery-operated car service is available at many of the main railway stations around India.  Most of stations have prominent boards with phone numbers to call.

Buggy board at Mysore

Chennai Central Station  –  99403 56789
Chennai Egmore Station –   99520 56789
Bangalore City Station –   99007 89789
Mysore City Station –   99000 12333

Help us collate this important information by mailing photos of such boards in various railway stations to

Top 5 places for long life

There are a few places around the world which seem to allow people to live for many more years than expected.  In Ikaria, for example, the average lifespan is a good 10 years more than the rest of western Europe.

What makes these places special is not quite clear, though it is unlikely to be any one specific reason.  In all probability, a combination of factors allow many people in these areas to lead active lives well into their 90’s and even beyond 100!  Location, weather, food habits and diet, work culture, and genetics could all be working together to provide the best environment for living, making them the true Shangri-las of this world.

The top 5 locations, known as blue zones are:

Ikaria, Greece

Ikaria got its name from the Greek myth of Icarus who, legend has it, plunged into the sea close to the island when his wax and feather wings melted. For centuries it was known as a health destination because of natural hot springs on the island.


Island of Okinawa, Japan

The name Okinawa means “rope in the open sea”, a fairly apt description of this long stretch of islands between mainland Japan and Taiwan. Consisting of 49 inhabited islands and 111 uninhabited islands, Okinawa has a subtropical/tropical climate.

okinawaOkinawa’s most famous export worldwide is the martial art of karate. In recent years Okinawan culture has become quite popular throughout Japan thanks to popular musicians and local foods.  Okinawan music is very attractive and unique because of the mixture of original Okinawan sounds and American rock, jazz, and other sounds from the USA.

Ancient Chinese legends already called Okinawa “the land of the immortals”.  In 2007, there were 457 persons on Okinawa aged 100 or over, an average of 35 for each 100,000 inhabitants. It is the highest in the world.

Loma Linda, California, US

Loma Linda is a unique community of 21,000. The city has been a national center of health and wellness research for decades. Loma Linda offers residents an alternative to the intense, often anonymous lifestyle so characteristic of modern life. It is no surprise to find numerous families strolling along the city’s tree lined streets, or playing in its numerous parks.

loma_lindaThe community has discovered a secret that’s much easier to find than any gene. Its effect is so powerful that it enables them to live longer than anyone else in the US.  For many of those living in Loma Lindo long life is a matter of faith. A significant number of people in the town are Seventh Day Adventist, a religion whose members live between five and 10 years longer than fellow citizens.

Nuoro province, Sardinia

The Province of Nuoro (Italian: Provincia di Nuoro; Sardinian: Provìntzia de Nùgoro) is a province in the autonomous island region of Sardinia, Italy. Its capital is the city of Nuoro.

nuoroThe province hosts some of the wildest and most beautiful natural landscapes in the world. Part of these landscapes has been included in the National Park of the Gulf of Orosei and Gennargentu which straddles the border between the Provinces of Nuoro and Ogliastra.

The Province of Nuoro is one of Europe’s less-densely populated areas. However, it is known for its high concentration of centenarians and supercentenarians.

Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

Nicoya Peninsula is about 70 miles long and 30 miles wide. Surfer beaches and upscale resorts hem the peninsula’s western edge. But inland, forest-covered hills and cow pastures blanket most of the terrain.

NicoyaIn 2005, Dr. Luis Rosero-Bixby, a Costa Rican demographer trained in the United States, presented a paper at an international conference claiming to have discovered that 60-year-old Costa Ricans have the longest life expectancy of anyone in the world. In other words, if you are middle aged and live in Costa Rica, you are more likely to reach, say, a healthy age 90 than your counterparts worldwide.

Are there any such places in India?

Senior friendly railway stations

At Old is Gold Store, wherever we go, we make it a habit to look at all public places such as railway stations, resorts, hotels and restaurants through the eyes of a senior citizen so that we can highlight all the senior friendly places to our customers.  Given our record in India, we can safely state that it is easier to document and list all senior/disabled friendly places (a very short list) than enumerate all the places which are not senior friendly (a very long list indeed).

Recently, on a trip to Varkala in Kerala, we were pleasantly surprised to find the railway station had ramps for entry to the station, ramps for entry to the canteen, free stretcher and wheelchair service and an easily accessible and readily available wheelchair at the station.

I could not spot the toilet though in the short time that we were there, so I cannot state whether the toilets were senior safe.  Also we did not find an elevator to help people cross over to the other track (we had to climb a flight of stairs to get on to the over-bridge and climb down on the other side).  Nevertheless, we appreciate the builders of Varkala station and hope that more public places take the cue from Varkala.

If you have noticed places that have taken special care to make all areas accessible, please write to us at with photos.

Don’t lose your marbles

Active Ageing logo v3Active ageing defies the phrase “counting your years”, and instead repositions everyday with activity that becomes fun and enjoyable.

Senior Citizens often find themselves with too little to do after retiring or once their children grow up and move away. While many aspects of age-related decline are inevitable, scientific evidence shows that staying involved with physical, mental and social activities can help seniors maintain a healthy mind, body and spirit.

Mental Function

Senior Citizens who remain physically active significantly reduce their risk of cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia. Physical activities include walking, yoga, gardening, housework; anything that keeps a person moving on a regular basis.


Regular physical activity reduces incidence of premature death due to chronic diseases such as heart attack, stroke and diabetes. It also helps people maintain bone mass density, which can help prevent osteoporosis. Senior Citizens who exercise regularly are also more agile and mobile significantly improving their quality of life.

Emotional Well-being

Social activities can help keep Senior Citizens engaged and close to other people. Taking part in group activities and social events helps elderly people maintain a sense of meaning and purpose in life.

Here is a list of activities, hobbies that senior citizens can take up and enjoy themselves

  •     Form walking clubs groups, learn Yoga, crack puzzles work on word games, and play cards, chess, caroms anything that interests you.
  •     Learn to stitch or start again
  •     Build a garden
  •     Indulge your grandchildren or learn the art of long distance grand parenting
  •     Collect antiques, collect newspaper articles.
  •     Grow fishes build an aquarium
  •     Join a Senior Centre or a  club,
  •     Buy a camera, shoot everything in sight.
  •     Go to a library, read, write, blog paint
  •     Organize city history tours, temple walks.
  •     Organise a retro movie club.
  •     Join support Groups, teach slum children, counsel people.
  •     Learn new recipes, share yours with others, and write recipe books.

To share ideas send email to

Thinking of returning to India – A house should be your first priority

Home-Tax-BenefitThere comes a day in the lives of mid-40 year old NRIs when they realizes that their parents are getting old and can no longer fend for themselves.  To many this comes as a rude shock when during one of their trips to India, they see that their parents have significantly aged since their last visit. At this time, two primary options come to mind.

Option 1:  Take the parents back with them.  In many cases, when it is a single parent, this is a viable option, especially when the other parent has just passed on.  This helps the surviving parent to be with close family during a time of grief and the change in scene may also in some ways ease the pain.  The flip side is of course is that the parent may feel uprooted from familiar surroundings and friends and rebuilding a life half way around the world can be quite challenging. Additionally issues with insurance and medical coverage etc will need to be worked out.

Option 2:  The NRIs return to India to stay with the parents.  This would mean that the NRIs will have to give up the life they have build in the foreign country and restart from scratch in India. Again a lot of challenges involved.  Of these one big challenge is getting a house in India.

In earlier times, if you were to sell a house in the US or gulf and come back to India, you would have enough money to buy a same sized house here with lots of money to spare.  Those days are long gone.  Now a house in an Indian city costs much more than a house in most other parts of the world!  However, with some foresight and planning, a decent house or apartment could become a reality for you.

a.  Start looking for a house now.  Everyday, the real estate prices are going up, so the sooner you begin the better.
b.  Look for options outside the city with proximity to industrial zones and hospitals. Options outside the city limits are often much cheaper than those inside the city, especially when you book your apartment at the beginning of the project (when rates are at the best).
c.  Check out bank loan options.  Every bank in India provides NRIs with attractive home loan options.
d.  Many gated communities are coming up with schools and hospitals within the complex.  These could be ideal for your children and your ageing parents.

If your parents are not too old yet and you have not reached the mid-40s yet, now would be a good time to buy the house. That way, a good home will be available when you decide to come back to India.

Of passwords and ATM PINs

passwordWith more of our lives getting digital every day, one of the biggest challenges facing us is keeping track of all the passwords(email, bank account, Facebook, …) and TPINs (Telephone Personal Identification Number) and IPINs (Internet PIN) and ATM PINs that have become an intrinsic part of our lives. Writing down these passwords and PINs in a central place is a big “NO-NO” and jotting your PIN on the back of your ATM card is as good as throwing your money away!

If this is a tough challenge even for youngsters, it is problem of a much higher magnitude for senior citizens with fading memories.  However, there are some simple tricks that you can use to make up strong passwords that are easy to remember for you but tough for others to crack.  Here is one simple trick:

There are many things in our lives that are etched deeply into our long-term memory which will never fade away. Our first telephone number, the address of the house we were born in, our college ID, lines from our favorite songs, name of our first girl friend/boy friend, our first love, phrases that affected us, proverbs that hold special meaning for us, titles of books that changed the way we look at life, names of people who helped us along, birthdays of our first born, or the first grandchild, our star sign – the list of things we can never forget is a mile long.  Most of these words, phrases and numbers are very difficult to guess for others, especially if some of them are in your native language (other than English).  Choose a few of these wisely and use them for your various password needs.

Just remember to avoid some of the easily guess-able ones such as your own name, your mother’s maiden name (which you have probably been asked in many places), your birthday, or the last line of your National Anthem. Especially that last bit, as if you ever have to divulge your password to your wife, she may what to know who that “Jaya” is!!!

One piece of advice:  There may come a time when you may have to reveal your password to someone in the family, so do not keep anything nasty, embarrassing or too revealing as your password.

Don’t let passwords and PINs scare you away from using ATM cards and computers.

If you can think of other simple ways of producing strong passwords, do share those ideas through the comments section.  .

Most of our elderly parents live in denial

protecting elderlyMost of our parents, even though they have become older and have lost some of their balance, still believe that they are completely capable of living unaided.  Genuine inability to notice the gradual deterioration of faculties along with not wanting to “burden” their children with their difficulties plus pride leads to this deadly state of denial.  And sometimes as children, we are also lulled into a false sense of belief that all is well, especially when we are living away from them – until there is some unfortunate accident that leads us to re-look at the situation with new eyes.

A few incidents involving our customers can help illustrate this problem as well as enable you to identify such situations and take necessary measures to ensure that your parents lead a safe and secure life.

I will narrate below one such incident involving one of my favorite customers.  An elderly lady, she walked into our showroom one bright sunny day to take a look at what we had on offer.  “Saw your advertisement and was curious to know what you have for us oldies…”, she said with an impish grin.  I showed her the different products we had and she clucked at each of them as though to say, “maybe for other older people… I don’t need these now”.  Finally we came to the walking sticks section and she picked up one of them, checked the price, paused a bit, chuckled and said, “I might be needing this one of these days”.  She then put the stick down and added “just not yet” and left the shop.

She came again a couple of days later saying she was just passing by and wanted to drop in and say hello.  I noticed a slight stutter in her steps and her hand against the wall, but pretended that I hadn’t noticed anything.  Her eyes wandered around the shop and I caught her glancing at the walking sticks.  “Not for another six months at least”, she half muttered to herself. She then shook her head, made small talk with me and went away.

A week later she was back.  This time she said “I keep coming to your shop and going away empty handed.  The least I can do by way of encouragement is to buy something. This time I am determined to buy something from your shop just to show you that I appreciate what you are doing and for all the times you have patiently listened to my chatter”.  Then she looked around and said, “what can I get for Rs. 500?” and then she looked at one of the walking sticks she had spied during her previous visits.  She grabbed at one and pretended to be surprised that it was priced exactly at Rs. 500.  “Humph, might as well buy this then, even though God know I don’t need it now.  I only rarely feel dizzy when walking anyway” she said and bought the stick.  She unwrapped it then and there and declared, “Now that I have bought it, I may as well use it whether I need it or not”!  Now, every time she visits us, she has her trusted walking stick firmly in her hand.

It took this tough lady 3 visits to convince herself to buy a walking stick, something she needed quite desperately.  Most of our customers are like that when they come by themselves – reluctant to accept that they are no longer as sprightly as before.  Some times, one of their children or a younger relative accompanies them and in that case there is usually a lot of argument before the young person says “I will buy this now.  You can use it when you want”.  Invariable, whatever they buy gets used from that day forwards.

When you are living away from your parents, it is usually not possible to find out exactly how they are getting on.  You end up going by their word, which is not always as objective as we would like it to be.  So remember, you need to be a lot more proactive when it comes to ensuring that your parents have all the protection and safe guards they need to lead an accident-free and safe live.