In the backyard, grandma’s new apartment
Posted Thursday, May 10 2012 at 00:00
When her father became ill just before Christmas last year, Dr Socorrito Baez-Page faced an increasingly common conundrum.
Her aging parents wanted to stay in their town house, but her mother couldn’t handle the care-giving alone.
So Dr Baez-Page, a general practitioner, moved her parents into her home, converting the dining room and TV nook on the main floor into a bedroom. But the four steps down to the bathroom in the split-level home have proved hazardous. Nobody is happy.
“My mother is embarrassed to have to use the commode by her bed at night,” said Dr Baez-Page. And space for everybody is tight. The solution?
Though many families are often forced to consider nursing homes under these circumstances, the Page family found another option.
They ordered a MEDCottage — a prefabricated 12-by-24-foot bedroom-bathroom-kitchenette unit that can be set up as a free-standing structure in their backyard.
It’s more than a miniature house — it’s decked out with high-tech monitoring and safety features that rival those of many nursing homes.
The floors, for instance: “It’s got special rubber floors, so even if you fall, you’ll be safe,” noted Dr Baez-Page’s husband, Dr David Page.
Indeed, according to Kenneth Dupin, a minister and the founder of N2Care, the Virginia company that worked with Virginia Tech College of Engineering to design the MEDCottage, you can drop an egg from 18 inches onto the special flooring without breaking it.
The Australians, who began building simple backyard homes for the elderly in the ’70s, call them granny flats.
In the United States, these self-contained units have earned another nickname: granny pods.
The cottage is laid out as an open-plan apartment with a kitchen area (equipped with a microwave, small refrigerator and washer-dryer combo), a bed area and a bathroom large enough in which to manoeuvre a wheelchair.
The utilities and plumbing connect to the primary residence. In order to make midnight bathroom visits safer, a runway mat stretching from the bed to the toilet lights up automatically when you step on it. It turns itself off after 10 minutes.
Tracks along the ceiling accommodate a lift or a trapeze hook. Residents who have balance issues can grab onto a hook to provide stability as they move around the cottage. The lift helps those with more serious mobility challenges.
“One of the primary reasons people have to go to nursing homes is that caregivers can’t lift them anymore and get them out of bed and keep them mobile,” Mr Dupin said.
If the cottage resident does fall, she will be visible on a camera system hooked up to the caregiver’s computer in the main house.
It’s not exactly Big Brother: the cameras sweep an area 12 inches above the floor, so normally all they transmit are images of feet and ankles.
For those needing more elaborate medical monitoring, the MEDCottage is equipped with a system that tracks blood pressure, glucose, heart rate and blood gases (changes in blood levels of oxygen or carbon dioxide can signal heart failure and other serious conditions), sharing that information with family and physicians.