Home health care can avoid higher costs of institutional care in a nursing home or assisted living facility, but making space may be an issue. Fortunately, there are many options. You can give grandma the spare bedroom, convert a garage into living space, remodel the home, or add a small cottage on your property.
That last option is the idea behind MEDCottage, a charming modular home that serves as a “mini-medical facility.” It’s designed like a deluxe trailer for the elderly, but it doesn’t look like a trailer. I like the idea of relying on experts to integrate various systems, where the combined value is greater than the sum benefits of each part.
Inside the 12’x24’ space are living, sleeping, cooking, and bathing areas, equipped with some of the latest technologies to assist in care-giving. Sensors monitor vital signs and activity, send medication reminders, and alert caregivers if there’s a fall via PC or smart phone. The aesthetically pleasing home is secure, pathogen-free and filters air for contaminants.
MEDCottage can be rented and installed temporarily or purchased and installed permanently on flat space in your yard to give grandma her own space, autonomy, self-esteem and connection to family. I can personally attest to the value of these benefits, since my own mom lived out her last years close to family.
I grew up in a small 800 sq.ft. home in Arlington, VA, and we eventually moved to a rambler-style home in McLean with four staggered levels. After dad’s heart attack, he was confined to the top floor where the bedrooms and bathrooms were. I worried about his mental health, since he was an avid golfer and professional cabinet maker. He was used to being outside and working with his hands, and I remembered him teaching me how to whittle neckerchief slides in Boy Scouts. So I bought him the best whittling knife I could find. I hoped the knife would give him purpose and something to do, but before I could give it to him, he died from a second heart attack.
The McLean house was too much for mom to maintain herself, and now it had too many bad memories, so she sold it and moved into a small condo in Fairfax, close to my brother. She also replaced most of the furniture with units that better fit the scale of the smaller rooms. ‘Good move. It was a pleasant apartment, but she increasingly felt isolated there.
After three years living alone and seeing her own health decline, mom made a great decision. She sold the condo and used the money to build a small suite onto my brother’s home in Fairfax. The property had plenty of space, and mom’s apartment was built on the other side of an expanded garage. It increased the home’s value but mostly it gave mom her own space where she didn’t feel like a burden but was near help if she needed it. She could look out onto a greenbelt and watch the wildlife, and she could watch parents drop of their young kids at my sister-in-law’s in-home daycare.
Mom and dad were heavy smokers, and after mom eventually died from complications from emphysema, the small apartment became the day care center. Building that attached apartment was a great decision. It gave us all peace of mind.
Every case is different, and not everyone has the space to build on or install a MEDCottage. I’d love to hear other stories about how space was made an aging parent in the comments below.
5/01/2012 – The New York Times just ran In the Backyard, Grandma’s New Apartment, a story on this MEDCottage