In an ageist world where toddlers, teens and adults dominate the consumer graph, a trio in Chennai are thinking about growing needs of the rapidly greying—and largely ignored—section of the population. Faced with parents suffering geriatric ailments and few products to assist in their care, a trio of Chennaiites—Sanjay Dattatri and founder couple Jayashree and Prithvirajan—set up the Old is Gold store in Adyar, a Chennai suburb over a year ago. Since then, the store has been profitable, and plans are afoot to open another branch in Chennai and stores across south India. “It’s a shame that we are the only store exclusively catering to the needs of senior citizens,” says Sanjay Dattatri.
The shop has been a boon to Eswari Sundaresan, 76, who found her back hurting from long hours of sitting, watching TV or reading. A visit to Old is Gold got her a customised backrest cushion that she now props between the headboard and her back for support. Products like these pillows, designed for senior citizens, are a rarity in India, unlike in Europe and the US. “Disease and disability are two main concerns in old age. While healthcare is advanced in India, we are still lacking in products to help the elderly, and such stores are therefore vital,” says geriatrician V.S. Natarajan.
The gradual distintegration of the joint family means that elders live by themselves in urban areas. “Hopefully, stores like these will help them live independently,” says Prithivirajan.
The over hundred products sold at Old is Gold range from incontinence pads, adult diapers, orthotics, toilet aids, mobility aids like specialised light-weight stools and chairs to help elders in public spaces; specialised backrests for those confined to bed, arthritis and diabetes support, convenience and home safety products. They are mainly sourced from China, Taiwan, Malaysia; some are sourced locally. Though most products are designed in the West, Old is Gold sells Indianised versions to suit the needs of elders here—for use in Indian-style bathrooms, toilets or kitchens, for instance. The shop also has a range of comfortable clothing for bedridden seniors or those with special needs.
The idea of Old is Gold sprung from the owners’ personal experience. All three had lucrative jobs in the US, but when their parents grew old and needed help, they returned to India to look after them. Repeatedly frustrated at not finding a single place which catered to their parents’ specialised requirements, they decided to fill the gap and set up a shop themselves. Initially, footfalls were not that high—about ten customers dropped in daily. However, as word got around, business increased steadily, and repeat customers drove sales up further. Orders over the phone and traffic at the Old is Gold online store too are going up now. “There is a market for highly customised products such as those available in Old is Gold for various needs of the elderly, from communication or mobility aids and more,” says Sheelu Srinivasan, founder president of Dignity Foundation, a body working for the welfare of the elderly.
Though demographically India is touted as a young country, numbers of the elderly are rising in absolute terms. There are about 100 million people over 60, accounting for 7.5 per cent of the population. One in two households has a person who is over 60. In India, most old-age homes are destitute shelters really; retirement homes often are not geared for the elderly and are in most cases regular gated communities marketed by realtors with an old age spin. Most distressingly, products to keep the elderly comfortable are still lacking, as if after full lives of service to society, they just don’t matter. That’s where Old is Gold steps in.