Malaysia is veritably heading towards an ageing population. The United Nations defines an ageing nation as one where more than 10% of the population is aged more than 60 years old. As of 2014, 8.9% of the Malaysian population falls in this category. This number, projected to reach 9.9% in 2020 will grow further to 15% by 2035. The question is what does an increasing share of older persons in the population means for the local real estate industry?
RETIREMENT HOMES – A NEW TREND ON THE HORIZON?
Attesting to the increasing need for retirement homes in the future, Ng Chin Yung, Sales & Marketing General Manager of Leadmont Group says that these homes, also known as Wellness Cities (WC) are an emerging trend in the Malaysian property market.
“Health and social care demands of future aged generations in Malaysia will be more sophisticated due to different life expectations as well as better education and financial standing,” he said.
Ng added, “I recently attended a conference talk on retirement living and senior care in Southeast Asia organised by IMAPAC Pte Ltd in Malaysia. It was highlighted that the new model for private sector housing includes retirement villages, life apartments and senior clubs/ resorts.” Most developers have yet to dip their toe into the WC pool – so far, there are only a few developments being constructed in Malaysia.
WHAT ARE WELLNESS CITIES?
Ng explained that WCs differ from nursing homes in the sense that they do not cater to those unable to take care of themselves. Instead, the WCs present an eco-system of supportive lifestyle and care services that enable ageing-in-place. It encourages for an independent lifestyle among the elderly, erasing the need for dependence on their children.
As Ng explained, think of the WC as a lifestyle concept. It is very similar to integrated mixed-use developments, which incorporates residential, commercial and entertainment and recreational components; thus enabling a comprehensive and convenient lifestyle for the modern-day urbanite.
The WC works in the same manner, where its structure encompasses special features, healthcare and medical services as well as community and leisure facilities/ opportunities for the elderly. These developments are already common in aged nations such as Japan and Thailand.
Elaborating on the WCs established in those countries, Ng said that these developments are specially designed to make life easier for an elder person. Its special features include grab bars, tub seats, nonslip or roll-in showers, and wheel-chair ramps. Some developments even have private elevators to respective units.
These developments also have in-house Health Centres, making it easy for its residents to get basic medical supplies and health consultations. Some even have their own dialysis centres, saving much needed time and energy.
Some higher-end WCs have built-in Smart Health Screening apps in the units, which enables for basic daily basic check-ups such as blood pressure and glucose levels of the resident. The app also enables relatives to view the screenings’ results, giving them assurance over their loved ones’ wellbeing.
Another plus point is that WCs encourage multigenerational living and stronger family ties where children could stay with their parents under the same roof. Furthermore, dual-key units offer the option of preserved space, privacy and independence.
The WCs are built in strategic locations with easy accessibility to hospitals and pharmacies, stores, eating outlets and recreational parks. Transportation to these locations is also provided, increasing residents’ mobility and enabling for an active social lifestyle.
A HEALTHY MIND BREEDS A HEALTHY BODY
“People of all ages aspire to have a sense of belonging and that desire or need does not disappear as we age. It cannot be denied that some elders who live with their children feel isolated and neglected, as their family is busy leading their own lives,” said Ng.
WCs counteracts this problem as it enhances communication and interaction with people in the same age category, enabling the elderly to live full lives in their community.
“Imagine, your grandmother just needs to knock on her neighbour’s door for a game of mah-jong and it is possible for your grandfather to play golf with his friends every day!” enthused Ng.
He mentioned that lifestyle factors are major determinants of healthy ageing. An active social life promotes higher mental activity, which in turn combats dementia and depression.
Robert DeNiro captures this sentiment perfectly in the movie ‘The Intern; where his character as a 70-year old retiree said, “The key to staying sane is to keep moving – Get up, get out of the house, go somewhere and do something. I can’t explain it but it makes me feel like I am part of something”.
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
Touching on the untapped potential of WCs in Malaysia, Ng said that these developments would also definitely attract foreign retirees. Many retirees from countries such as the UK, Japan, China, Singapore and Indonesia will find it more financially viable to retire in Malaysia as the costs for medical treatments is much cheaper here as compared to other countries.
A study by the American publication International Living rates Malaysia’s healthcare system as the third best out of 24 countries in its 2014 Global Retirement Index – beating out Spain, Italy, Ireland and New Zealand, among other countries.
It is no wonder that Malaysia has been seeing growing revenue from medical tourism.
MALAYSIA’S REVENUE FROM MEDICAL TOURISM
|YEAR||VALUE (RM’ MIL)|
Source: Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council/NST 2 March 2014
Sweetening the pot is the Malaysia My Second Home programme which is extremely beneficial also beneficial for foreign retirees. It allows non-Malaysians to stay in Malaysia on a social visit pass for 10 years, and it is renewable upon fulfilment of the applicable requirements when it expires.
As compared to nursing homes, WCs promotes active and independent living as well as a well-balanced lifestyle. Thus, it would be a boon in Asian countries where familial support in old age is especially prevalent. As Asians, we are bound by the deep-rooted tradition that it is the duty of the children and family to care for the elderly. Hence, WCs would be a blessing for Asian children who are intending to place parents in nursing homes.
On the flip side, developers will not be without challenges in meeting the housing demands of the ageing generation in Malaysia. Currently, there are several laws and incentives pertaining to matters such as employment, retirement, and health care but not any especially focusing on older persons or the development of retirement homes in Malaysia.
Ng explained that these WCs are not cheap to construct and as such, will only be an option for the more affluent – developers are going to need government incentives or collaborations in order for the WCs to be more affordable for the masses.
Still, it is safe to say that the mushrooming of retirement homes in Malaysia in the future is inevitable. The rakyat are living longer because of better nutrition and health care; higher education and economic well-being will result in the baby-boomers having their own set of housing needs and demands. Hence, a growing number of developers will be looking to address these demographic shifts in the near future.