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The Granny Pod

You know how we’ve been talking about home health care lately, along with the ever-rising costs of residential facilities for the elderly and the complex demands of long-term caregiving?  Well, there’s an interesting little trend afoot: the granny pod.

Granted, this approach is not for everyone.  It takes a considerable financial commitment, although is ultimately a lot cheaper than years of nursing home care, and it requires favorable local zoning.  But it’s very, very promising.

The granny pod solution works like this.  Small, carefully designed, prefabricated units are set up in residential backyards.  The plumbing and utilities are connected back to the primary residence.  In go your mom and dad or other elderly family member.  They are close by but perfectly independent.  Everyone keeps their boundaries and privacy.

The MEDCottage is a high-end example of this idea.  It’s an open-plan 12-by-24 foot kitchenette-bedroom-bathroom unit full of thoughtful high-tech goodies — rubber flooring, helpful lighting, mobility aids and security and safety cameras.  The units can be further enhanced for those needing more medical monitoring with a system to track blood pressure, heart rate, glucose and so forth, sending any information on to family members and physicians.  The cost for a new cottage is about $85,000, and the distributors will buy it back for about $38,000 after 24 months of use.

At this point, about half of the states allow such accessory buildings for family members and the support is growing.  In Virginia, for example, a 2010 state law allows temporary medical dwellings on a resident’s property.  A physician must first verify that the patient requires assistance with at least two daily functions (bathing, eating, dressing and so on).  The unit is to be removed when there is no longer any need for it so the cottage pods do not become rental units.

Another prefab option is New York’s PALS (Practical Assisted Living Structures), created by Connecticut home-builder and aging-in-place specialist Henry C. Racki, Jr.  This pod has phone and cable lines built right into the walls so no one gets tangled up in them, all sorts of grab bars and no-step entries, motion detectors that turn on the lights and similarly age-appropriate features.  The standard unit, a 20-by-14 foot bedroom and bathroom combo, starts at around $67,000.  It can be customized according to a client’s needs and homeowners can lease a unit;  a five-year lease runs about $1,700 per month (after which you own the unit).

Clearly this is not an option for all of us, and some ailing seniors need far more care and medical attention than this kind of solution could offer.  Nor does any granny pod come equipped with 24-hour direct supervision, maid service and three meals a day, but it’s a start.  And no doubt other creative solutions are in the offing.   This is great news for caregivers, and potential caregivers — which is all of us, actually.

Special thanks Susan Seliger, NY Times.

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