MEDCottage, a tiny house designed for the elderly
What to do with an aging parent or grandparent who can no longer live independently? That question will be asked more frequently as the population ages. For some families, having granny move into the family home would be ideal. But what if you don’t have a spare room, all the bedrooms are upstairs, or your house was not designed for a person with limited mobility?
Granny might not like the idea either. Most people want to maintain a sense of independence for as long as possible. They might want to watch TV without worrying about disturbing others. They might prefer a quiet environment, difficult to achieve in a house shared with crying babies and screaming children. They might like more privacy. Or, they might fear being a nuisance to their families.
A Virginia company called N2Care has come up with an alternative, a tiny house temporarily placed in the family’s backyard. The MEDCottage isn’t an ordinary tiny house though; it is specifically designed to meet the needs of a senior citizen or disabled individual. This solution gives the elderly person her own separate little cottage, but puts it close enough that she can easily cross the yard for shared meals and companionship as the mood strikes her. Likewise, her family can check on her without having to drive across town, and the grandchildren can visit anytime. It does seem like it would work best for someone who is still reasonably independent but needs assistance with some tasks or is too forgetful to live without supervision.
The 288 ft2 (26.8 m2) cottage has a central bedroom/sitting room with a kitchenette and bathroom on either side. The bathroom is ADA-compliant with a curbless shower and a wheelchair-accessible sink, plus grab bars all around. Lighting incorporated into the baseboards highlights any objects on the floor, helping to prevent tripping.
A variety of optional safety and convenience features can be added, depending on the person’s needs. Over in the kitchenette, a pill dispenser reminds the resident take his medications on schedule. Cushioned flooring can be installed to prevent injuries. If granddad does fall, sensors can alert his caregivers, who can quickly check on him via cameras. There is somewhat of a Big Brother aspect to that, although the cameras are mounted at floor level so as not to intrude on the resident’s privacy more than necessary. If the resident becomes bedridden, a lift and track can be installed to help his caregiver move him from bed to bath and back.
What about zoning? Most towns don’t allow you to plop a second house down in your backyard, no matter how tiny a house it may be. The N2Care founders anticipated that problem and successfully lobbied the Virginia General Assembly to pass legislation that overrules all local zoning laws in the state. Under the rules, a “temporary family healthcare structure” of up to 300 ft2 (27.9 m2) can be placed on any single-family lot for use by a family member who is physically or mentally impaired, as certified by a doctor. The structure must be removed if the resident moves out, passes away or no longer requires care. That last part is a bit of a shame as accessory dwelling units have many uses and benefits besides elder care, but it’s better than nothing.
N2Care currently lists the base price of this MEDCottage model at $53,750. They offer two other models as well. More information can be found on the MEDCottage website.
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