When 81-year old Bimalendu Bhushan Bhattacharya suddenly realised that he had difficulty walking around his house, he immediately contacted Support Elders’ Alarm Centre for help. On receiving the emergency call, the company instantly assigned a staff member to rush to his residence and take all necessary steps to ensure his well-being.

Professor Bhattacharya, who was the leader of the fourth Indian Expedition team to Antarctica in 1984, was rather worried because the pandemic triggered by Covid-19 had made availability of beds difficult even in private hospitals. However, his admission into a hospital was not only seamless but the team from Support Elders also took care of the entire proceedings thereafter, including keeping his relatives in Benaras informed about his physical well-being.

“I have been living all alone since my wife passed away in 2016. Recently, I developed some difficulty in walking and I had to be hospitalised. We later found out there was a small clot in my brain and I had to undergo a minor surgery. The staff from Support Elders were very helpful and supported me throughout the period of hospitalisation,” Bhattacharya told BusinessLine .

Bhattacharya is not alone. An increasingly large number of senior citizens, considered among the most vulnerable sections of society to be impacted by the Novel Coronavirus, is signing up for elderly care services provided by various organisations.

According to Apratim Chattopadhyay, Founder, MD & CEO, Support Elders, there has been a 70-80 per cent growth in addition of new members over the last one year. While a good part of this addition comes from steady organic growth, the pandemic has also caused a spike in enrolments over the past two-to-three months.

“We continued providing emergency services, including for medical exigencies throughout the lockdown. We also realised quickly that in the absence of assistance in the form of maids and cooks, some of our members may also require services such as supply of precooked food as some of them cannot get up and cook for themselves. So, we established that ecosystem as well,” he said.

For mental well-being

Citing a recent survey of Covid-19 deaths, Prateep Sen, CEO & Co-founder of TriBeCa Care, said that while one in 12 will die from Covid-19 among those aged between 70-80 years, this number will climb to one in seven for those aged over 80.

“The pandemic has triggered a fear psychosis in the minds of senior citizens. Earlier, some of these people would at least go to the shops in the neighbourhood or to the market to get groceries and vegetables. This kept them occupied and gave them a feeling of being wanted. But now the whole thing is gone, and so they are a little bit more depressed and worried,” Sen said.

Some of these companies have therefore, introduced digital interactions to help their members tide over their anxieties and worries.

“There was lot of anxiety due to lack of social interactions and misinformation. So we started to introduce digital interactions and conducted events on apps such as Zoom and Google Duo. We set up a dedicated team that went to the member’s house and helped them understand the technology,” Chattopadhyay said.

Growing market/innovating services

The elderly care market in India is estimated at close to $4-5 billion (₹30,000 crore-₹37,500 crore). The market is highly fragmented comprising mainly of ayah centres, Sen said. However, things have been changing in the last four to five years and it has got further accelerated due to the current pandemic.

Debjani Ghosh, who lost her mother in May this year, could not manage to come down due to the lockdown and unavailability of flights. Her mothers’ last rites were organised by the members of Support Elders, along with her aunt and cousins. She feels it is very important for elderly people to have a strong support system.

“In the last few months our new membership has grown by two to three times for services as basic as delivering groceries to assisted telemedicine. The overall market, which was growing at 18-20 per cent on a year-on-year basis, is expected to witness 30-35 per cent growth on an annualised basis, moving forward,” Sen pointed out.

The rising demand is pushing companies to expand their footprint and roll-out more product offerings.

Support Elders, which has added close to 15-20 staff in the last two to three months to cater to the growing demand, is also looking to expand its network inside and outside West Bengal.

TriBeCa Care is providing assisted telemedicine services to its members, as well as complete home-based care. It has also asked its staff to call the members regularly not just for monitoring but also to chat up with them in order to lift their mood. Its care managers also help provide simple yoga and gardening techniques over the phone.