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Five-star luxury community lures elderly residents with service

SHANGHAI is going gray. By 2030, the city will have 5 to 6 million senior citizens aged over 60, almost 30 percent of the total population.

Statistics from the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau show that the elderly (over 60) population will rise by 140,000 every year from 2010 to 2020, compared with an average increase of 75,000 per year during the past five years.

By 2030, Shanghai will have become the "oldest" city in China with one elderly person among every three people.

As these figures loom ever larger, the big question is how will the city care for and house its aging population.

Nursing homes and retirement villages are possible, but many older people don't like to move and many young professionals prefer to rent low-cost suburban flats and hire an ayi to care for their parents.

There are also concerns about hired private caretakers who could abuse their position and trust of elders, or cannot provide real professional support.

Shanghai is ripe for high-end retirement communities, developers hope.

The city has plenty of nursing homes and retirement facilities, but few at the high end.

opened in May 2008, Cherish-Yearn Community is promoted as China's first high-end retirement community. It started as a membership community but now it is selling flats - to the elderly only.

"Though this kind of community for the elderly is quite common in America and Europe, in China it is still new," says Jin Chizhe, the company's sales and marketing manager.

The 8.3-square-kilometer community in suburban Kangqiao area of Nanhui contains 16 buildings. Twelve of them provide 800 apartments. There's also a wellness center, hospital, dining hall, recreational areas, tea houses, green space and streams. It offers short-term accommodation for residents' families.

It provides activities from painting to piano, chorus, theater and martial arts.

Today it has around 200 residents.

The 560-million-yuan (US$82 million) project charges each resident a one-time membership fee of 350,000-790,000 yuan. After November 20, the highest fee rises to 850,000 yuan.

The average is 500,000 yuan.

In addition, there's an annual fee of 20,000-60,000 yuan for life-long services.

Apartments are divided into small (60sqm), medium (80sqm) and large (120sqm).

The design in the buildings and flats is elderly-oriented to account for physical limitations. Public spaces have railings; the elevators can accommodate wheelchairs and stretchers; floors are anti-slip; bathrooms have handles for support.

Buildings are connected with covered corridors.

Each building is a different color, making them more easily identified by people with Alzheimer's disease, stroke-related memory problems and general senility.

Furnished flats are equipped with television, microwave oven, refrigerator and washing machine. Kitchens are fully equipped.

Bathrooms have hand grips and an emergency call button near the toilet seat and in the shower.

"When you become a Cherish-Yearn resident, your home for life also includes care for life," Jin says. "Our life-care program allows residents to move in independently and enjoy a resort lifestyle, while being assured that should their health needs ever change, they are guaranteed care to meet their highest level of independence."

The community has a medical center and a full-time staff of physicians, who get to know each resident personally as their own "family doctor." Its pharmacy will deliver prescriptions to the residents' front doors.

Assisted-living provides medical and other services in the privacy of one's own apartment. Residents can get just a little help as needed.

"All the members of the medical team are professional doctors and nurses," says manager Jin.

The community has its own general hospital with the therapists from Shanghai Shuguang Hospital. A "green channel" is set up between the two hospitals in case of emergency.

Residents can move to the nursing home as needed for short-term stay after surgery or illness.

A hospice provides medical, social and spiritual support through palliative end-of-life care. Private rooms and integrated family involvement help smooth the end-of-life transition.

"Our concept is totally new in the Chinese market," Jin says. "Our management system and services are first rate."

Each resident has an IC card, which is used as a key, an ID card to enter the community and a swiping card to buy food and drinks in the cafes and dining halls.

It is equipped with a Global Positioning System and in an emergency the senior can press the red button on the card to summon medical help or security services. Jin says they are guaranteed to arrive within two minutes.

There's 24-hour butler service that provides anything from flat cleaning and maintenance to grocery purchasing and drug delivery. Each residence has three butlers and more will be added as the population increases.

The community admits only women over 55 and men over 60 - or anyone with a retirement certificate.

Most residents today are couples.

When Cherish-Yearn opened in May 2008, the cost was a problem and people questioned the value of a "five-star, luxury retirement home," says Jin.

"It's not worth paying such a high price," says 52-year-old Shi Zhengming, a civil servant working in the tax bureau. He retires in eight years. "I can lead an extravagant retirement life by myself with that sum of money."

Wang Peifang, a 55-year-old factory worker, says she could never afford it and if she could, she wouldn't.

"I have many friends and we chat, dance and play mahjong every week," she says. "If I move to that suburban retirement community, my circle cannot move there with me and I would lose contact with them till the day I die."

Han Meihua, who has a 66-year-old mother, is also concerned for different reasons.

"What upsets me is not the money or my mother's social circle, but the fact that she would live only with old people, which I don't think is healthy, even if services are high quality," Han says.

She wants her mother to integrate with society and meet people of different age groups, "especially young people, who are energetic and vigorous. To stay young at heart is the most important thing for the elderly," Han says.

Today the occupancy rate of the opened buildings is almost 50 percent. The average age of residents is 73 and most are very well-educated, many being former university professors, doctors and teachers.

On Monday, 108-year-old Zhou Sanmei moved in.

Zheng Yin, 72, moved in five months ago and she's satisfied with her busy life. She takes piano lessons, surfs the Internet, studies Chinese painting, among many activities.

"The air is fresh and the environment is quiet and secure. I am happy and I have made new friends," she says.

Zheng used to be a clerk in the railway administration in Zhabei District. Her husband died several years ago.

"It took me a long time to get over it, but I thought my life should continue," she says.

After negotiations with her children, Zheng sold her downtown house for 800,000 yuan and moved into Cherish-Yearn. "My children were supportive," she says.

Wang Lifen is a new member. "My generation had worked so hard, why not spoil ourselves in our final years?" asks the 65-year-old. "It's not boring here at all."

Wang cites a "university," a library, chorus, folk opera troupes, hobby groups, fitness center, areas for gate ball, fan dancing, tai chi and many other exercises.

"We have birthday parties every month. The neighbors and staff are so nice here," she says.

Last month, Cherish-Yearn decided to sell its flats. It was originally opened as a membership community and residents had right of use or habitation, but not ownership.

"We're not a real estate company and what we want to do is to provide high-end services for the elderly. But our clients kept asking if we had plans to sell flats, and we thought it's not a bad idea," manager Jin says.

"This might be a typically Chinese characteristic. They pay money and want to get something physically, or tangible possession. Good service isn't something they can hold, but a flat is," he says.

Sales contracts stipulate that owners must be the elderly themselves; they must obey membership rules and pay annual service fees.

Since flats went on sale, 51 have been sold in the first batch of 63.

"I am thinking of purchasing a flat," says 74-year-old Yang Huikang, who works at the community information desk.

He has two flats in Kangqiao area and he and his wife plan to sell one and move to Cherish-Yearn. "At least we can get better service here."

The price is around 15,000 yuan per square meter.

Cherish-Yearn plans to build 10 similar communities around China in the next five years, creating a nationwide chain business.

Next year it plans to start construction of communities in Yellow Mountain (Anhui Province), Haikou City (Hainan Province) and Yingkou City (Liaoning Province).


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