As the U.S. population grows older, more and more adult children are looking for ways to care for their aging parents.
Many turn to assisted living facilities or nursing homes to provide that care. But now, for some, there may be a better option: an alternative living concept which provides seniors with a safe environment while keeping them close to loved ones.
In a quiet neighborhood just outside Washington, D.C., two homes sit within several feet of each other.
The only thing that separates them is a wooden walkway.
The larger residence belongs to Soc Page and her family. The dwelling behind it is home to her mother, Viola Baez.
The smaller home is a MEDCottage, a custom-built unit to accommodate the medical and safety needs of an older person.
For Soc Page, it was the ideal solution to her dilemma of where to place her mother.
"She absolutely refuses to even consider a nursing home. That was completely out of the question," says Page. "And my home is just not safe for her. So this is an alternative. She’s here, but she has her own space, it’s set up for her, it’s safe for her and it’s not a nursing home. We are actually her primary caretakers."
At just 28 square meters, the cottage is compact, but has separate areas for sleeping, dining and bathing.
These cottages cost anywhere from $45,000 to $125,000. The Pages are the first family to get a unit, and have the expensive version, because of all the medical features it offers.
That includes Viola's medical equipment, such as devices which check blood pressure and vital signs, which is sent electronically to her doctor.
There's also an eight-compartment pill dispenser that dispenses the designated pill or combination of pills when medications are scheduled.
The cottage also has many safety features.
There are lights along the floor boards so she can easily navigate her space at night without having to turn on lights, and the floor is made with special cushioning so in the event of a fall, she would be less likely to break a bone.
The bathroom has a walk-in shower with a seat, and there are railings all around.
From her own house, Page can check on her mother with intercoms and a video monitor, or even a smart phone.
Page says having her mother nearby, is just part of the natural order of things.
"We’re from Puerto Rico...that’s what it is, grandma lives with you," she says.
Viola Baez feels fortunate to be near her daughter, son-in-law and her grown granddaughters.
"I watch television with the girls, or I have dinner with them," she says.
She also attends church and special outings to the city with the family.
"I have a full life," she says, "I’m very happy."
Soc Page feels having her mother nearby also sets a good example for her two daughters.
"It’s good for them to realize that families have to hang together," she says, "even under perhaps less than ideal circumstances and that you can work it out."
Older daughter Erin Page says she appreciates having her grandmother nearby.
"I think it’s made me closer," she says. "I’ve certainly learned new stories about her life and her thoughts on the world and what she thinks should be done that I would never have learned otherwise."
Labor of love
A desire to help families stay together is what motivated Ken Dupin to establish N2Care, the company that makes the cottages.
"Several years ago I was traveling and working on a PhD in international development and one of the things I began to notice was how differently other cultures throughout the world dealt with aging," he says. "In virtually every other culture in the world they celebrate that, they see it as a privilege. But for whatever reason in the culture that I live in, we have resistance to that. And that’s my mission is to change that."
MEDCottages are built and assembled in Martinsville, Virginia, a few hours from Washington. They are then transported and set up on the homeowner’s property.
For Ken Dupin, each sale is meaningful.
"If I have a purpose for the rest of my life it is somehow challenging and motivating people to accept this responsibility, and it’s funny in that it’s its own reward," he says.
Dupin has received more than 3,000 inquiries about MEDCottages, from the U.S. and overseas. He says he's working hard to keep up with demand.