My husband’s grandmother enjoyed cooking a big Italian meal for Sunday dinner. Her family would trek across town for the meal, with cannoli from the local bakery in hand. Her daughter and son-in-law were even closer--- they just walked up the stairs.

The house they shared was a two family home – two complete living units, one upstairs and one down. Grandma and Aunt Carol were the 2nd and 3rd generations of the family to live in the home. In addition to her paid employment, Aunt Carol worked day and night caring for her parents. She helped with transportation and shopping. She took them to medical appointments. She ran upstairs in the middle of the night when she heard Grandpa stirring. He fell easily toward the end. This was exactly what Grandma had done for her parents before her.

Today, Aunt Carol and her husband still live downstairs, but Grandma and Grandpa died several years ago – at home. Carol’s son now occupies the top floor, the fourth generation to call this house home. Carol is a long way from needing her son’s help with day-to-day activities, but he’s there when that day comes. Like her parents and grandparents, she won’t need a nursing home because of their living arrangement. And she’ll probably live longer because of it.

Research shows that people in assisted living and nursing homes don’t live as long as those who stay in the community. This is partly because people in nursing homes are sicker. But it’s also due to other factors--- like increased exposure to infectious diseases. Intangibles also play a role, and loss of purpose most certainly hastens death.

Today, most families don’t operate the way Aunt Carol’s does. Moving across the country is far more common than moving downstairs. The elderly are often on their own until they can’t manage any more. Then they move to assisted living or a nursing home.

In 2010, a private room in a nursing home averaged about $7,000. Assisted living ran $3,293 per month. Since Medicare doesn’t cover these costs, many senior adults are forced to spend their assets. Then they rely on Medicaid to cover the expense. It’s not the retirement many planned on. Let’s be honest – we all want to be able to afford nursing home care should we need it, but no one actually wants to use it.

But what if there were other options that looked a bit more like Grandma and Aunt Carol’s arrangement? My husband and I are in negotiations about where we will live in two years when our second child leaves for college. Part of that discussion includes his mom. She lives in her own home about five minutes from us, but it’s getting to be a bit much for her to manage on her own. If we leave town, she’ll probably come along. My husband is convinced she needs a granny pod.

These tiny homes manufactured by MedCottage are like self-contained hotel suites, outfitted with high tech medical amenities - oxygen, defibrillators, and heart rate monitoring capability, for example. They land in your backyard and Grandma or Grandpa lives there – close to the family, but with their own space. With a price tag of about $125,000, they don’t cost much more than the typical stay in the assisted living-nursing home circuit. And it’s an asset that can be sold.

My husband imagines us on a little bit of land. The granny pod will be in it’s own corner. His mom will have a little space for a garden and maybe a potting shed/art studio. As long as we each have our own kitchen, it works for me.

Knowing my mother-in-law, she’ll balk at the medical aspect of the granny pod (she’s not a naturally trusting individual, so a toilet seat that weighs her and takes her temperature might be a bit much.) I imagine our solution will involve a tiny home without the medical features that MedCottage offers.

My father spent time in a nursing home after multiple strokes and I wasn’t in a position to do anything about it at the time. Now we might just be able to offer another option for my mother-in-law. That makes me happy.

Other people might prefer to build an addition onto their home to make space for an aging parent. One of the primary criticisms of the granny pod is that is simply “storage for Grandma.” This probably comes to down to personality and privacy needs – on both sides of the equation. But if you find the pod offensive, a home addition could be your solution.

An individual with no family nearby also has options to prolong independent living. Choosing a one story home in a zero maintenance community allows an elderly individual to remain independent longer than a large family home will. Services are available to handle cleaning, shopping, and transportation needs. Adult daycare or an in-home caregiver provides even more hands-on assistance.

None of this is cheap, but neither is assisted living or a nursing home. And for those with low incomes, Medicaid even offers incentives to help keep you living in the community as long as possible.

People in the sandwich years – the years we care for children and parents both – have to think of elder care a lot like college. It’s so expensive we must explore alternatives. Sometimes those alternatives are more attractive than traditional options.

As for me, I plan to opt for cruise ship care when I can no longer mow the lawn.