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'It feels more like a rejuvenating resort holiday': Luxury retirement homes on the rise in Malaysia

'It feels more like a rejuvenating resort holiday': Luxury retirement homes on the rise in Malaysia
As increasingly affluent Malaysians enter their twilight years, upscale retirement homes have started to come up.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

KUALA LUMPUR — When a 102-year-old Malaysian retiree was first sent to the ReU Living retirement and post-operative care facility in July 2022, it was meant only to be a short stay during a brief illness.

But she enjoyed the luxury digs so much, she decided to stay for good.

The daughter of the centenarian told The Straits Times, as they had lunch at the centre in Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur: "After two weeks, she didn't want to go home. She said it's too lonely at home."

Both women declined to be named.

"There are a lot of people here, and she likes the atmosphere," added the 78-year-old daughter.

Some 50 residents, most of whom are short-term guests recovering from surgery, are staying at the ReU Living centre, opened in February 2022 within the resort-style MiCasa Hotel, just a stone's throw away from the Petronas Twin Towers in downtown KL.

The facility is as far from the stereotype of the drab and depressing old age home as it can get.

As increasingly affluent Malaysians enter their twilight years, upscale retirement homes have started to come up, offering an option to active seniors who are downsizing, as well as those requiring a little more support with their day-to-day living.


At least four such developments have sprung up in Klang Valley in the last few years alone.

Following the Covid-19 pandemic, hotels that lost business or had to close altogether saw other opportunities for their properties.

ReU Living's chief executive Anna Chew said she was inspired during the pandemic to build communities for senior living and post-hospitalisation recovery that provide comfort and luxury.

"We renovated during the lockdown as I saw an opportunity to work with property developers in the hospitality space then, as hotels were empty," she said.

"I wanted to build it for myself and my mum, to ensure the highest level of services was available to support quality of life for seniors," added Chew, who set up a similar outfit in Penang in 2021.

In a country where many people still live with their adult children, looked after by foreign domestic workers as they age, luxury retirement living does not come cheap.

Fees at ReU Living start at RM7,500 (S$2,130) a month, or RM260 a night for short stays.

Aside from Malaysian residents, ReU Living also targets expatriates, or those who are in the country for medical procedures.

For that price, residents do not have to worry about housekeeping and laundry while staying in plush suites and enjoying daily activities, meals catered from the hotel, a high-tech physiotherapy centre with special machines for stroke patients and traditional Chinese medicine services.

The facility has staff nurses and is located near eight hospitals.

Residents say such purpose-built retirement facilities also offer the comfort of a social network.

Many have children busy with their own careers who are happy to pay for their parents to be in a safe and secure environment that also provides stimulation.

Leonard Theng, general manager of Sunway Sanctuary, which opened in June 2023 next to the Sunway Medical Centre in Selangor, said: "Some of them have children who are working overseas, so they are alone here. For the family to have peace of mind to know that they are in a facility that can take care of their well-being, that's one reason why they are here."

The senior living centre currently has 75 to 90 residents, with 20 to 25 of them on long-stay. It has also received inquiries from overseas. Its three-day package for two people starts from RM1,200, while longer stays start from RM8,800 a month.

Based on United Nations data, Malaysia is ageing at a fast rate, with more than seven per cent of the population aged 65 and above as at 2020.

The World Bank estimates that the country could become a super-aged society by 2056, with people aged 65 and above accounting for more than 20 per cent of the population.

While there are some 1,400 private aged care homes in Malaysia, it is more common for family members to live together under one roof. 

A 2014 survey by the National Population and Family Development Board Malaysia — which is conducted every 10 years — revealed that 70 per cent of elderly Malaysians stay with their children or extended family, while eight in 10 elderly parents receive financial assistance from their children.

But these living arrangements may change, with a growing aged population that is more affluent.

Chew believes that the market for at-home care, home caregivers and basic nursing homes alone could be worth RM2 billion currently.

Dr Ramnan Jeyasingam, CEO and director of health services at Pacific Senior Living, which opened Acacia, a residence housed in a former hotel in Klang, Selangor, said that an estimated 15 per cent of Malaysians will be over 60 years old by the year 2030, or about 4.5 million people out of some 30 million.

"A lot of people with land banks have reached out to us in the past few months… so we will consider the major cities anywhere, including places like Port Dickson and Seremban. Not big cities, but you still need these kinds of services as the population ages. So we're looking to meet those needs," he said.

With fees starting from RM8,500 a month, Acacia has services such as in-house physiotherapy, a gym, a swimming pool, trained caregivers, and visiting doctors.

The residence, which had its launch officiated by the Sultan of Selangor in November 2023, now has 14 residents with capacity for around 150.

It has also received inquiries from potential clients overseas, including Singaporeans, and is planning to open up more residences in other states, including Penang and Johor.

Madam Lee Chee Meng, 74, who moved into Acacia for a month while recovering from a broken arm, said she is thinking of extending her stay.

"It feels more like a rejuvenating resort holiday, complete with delicious meals and caring staff who go above and beyond to ensure my happiness and wellness," she said.

Siva Shanker, the CEO of estate agency at property consultants Rahim and Co International, said more upscale retirement homes are coming up.

"These upscale retirement homes are not catering to the sick and infirm. They are catering to the empty nester, slightly older but still active. They might sell their big house and move to an apartment.

"Some might say, 'Let's move to one of these facilities where we have people of our age whom we can be friends with.'"

Shanker noted that Malaysia is traditionally a filial society, where placing one's parents in a home might be frowned upon.

But things are changing, and parents in future may not want to live with or be taken care of by their children. Malaysia is also facing a "brain drain" exodus of professionals, with some 1.86 million Malaysians currently living abroad.

"The proliferation of these homes is inevitable. A lot of these homes are also a result of the brain drain. I know many families whose children have gone away and will never come back," said Shanker.

ALSO READ: Marcus Chin buys retirement home in Johor but he's not ready to retire yet

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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