The MEDCottage is a free-standing spare room in your backyard.
The MEDCottage is a free-standing spare room in your backyard. Courtesy N2Care
Of all the elderly people he's visited, the Rev. Kenneth Dupin remembers a woman named Katie in particular.
Katie had a houseful of treasured memorabilia, and she loved to regale him with stories of Washington high society in the 1950s. But after she was moved to a nursing home, "she started crying," Dupin says. "I went over to her, and she pulled me down to where I could hear her, and she said, 'Please take me home.'"
She never did go back home, but after she died, her memory stayed with Dupin. He tells NPR's Audie Cornish that it got him wondering if there was a way to keep people like Katie out of nursing homes and closer to their families. His idea might seem strange, but "granny pods" are catching on.
The granny pod's real name is the MEDCottage, and it's basically a mini mobile home that rents for about $2,000 a month. You park one in the backyard, hook it up to your water and electricity, and it becomes a free-standing spare room for Grandma and Grandpa.
The concept is catching on all over the country, but nowhere more so than Virginia, where the state government has eased zoning restrictions on these high-tech hideaways, which go on the market early next year.
The MEDCottage is homey on the outside, with taupe vinyl siding and white trim around French doors. Inside, it looks like a nice hotel suite, complete with kitchen and bathroom — and security cameras.
On the inside, the MEDCottage is equipped with advanced health monitoring equipment and a lift that can carry an immobile resident to the bathroom.
On the inside, the MEDCottage is equipped with advanced health monitoring equipment and a lift that can carry an immobile resident to the bathroom. Courtesy N2Care
"This is something that we call 'Feet Sweep,'" Dupin says as he shows off a floor-mounted camera. It monitors only about 12 inches off the floor, or high enough to see a person's feet — but if that person fell, you'd see them lying on the floor.
Dupin says falls are one of the main reasons people end up in nursing homes, so the MEDCottage's technology could help them stay independent longer. The cottage also has safety lighting along the floors, a lift that can carry an immobile resident to the bathroom, and monitoring systems that let you check on Grandma's temperature, heart rate and whether she's taken her medicine.
It might seem a little odd, parking your loved one in a shed in the backyard, but Dupin says the MEDCottage is designed with Americans' independent nature in mind. "That space there provides a level of independence that is very important to Americans," he says.
"Really — this is one of those studies that we really can never publicly say — but we don't want them in our house," Dupin says. "Nor do they want to be in our house."
Still, having the family nearby and maybe having grandchildren running in and out of the cottage could potentially improve an elderly person's quality of life.
While Dupin says his parents probably won't end up in a granny pod, it's definitely something he sees in his own future. "As I'm thinking about my life, I'll probably be in one of the backyards of one of my kids," he says.