Randi is on a brief leave. This column was originally published June 2-8, 2016.
You may think this doesn’t have relevance for you, but you’re wrong, my friend. You may be 40 years old, running 7-minute miles and sprinting up the corporate ladder, but believe me, you need to focus on your old age — now. In fact, the only way you won’t have to plan for your dotage is if you die before you become decrepit, not an entirely awful option.
The new rage around the country is a concept for housing, or more accurately, storing our elderly. Several companies are selling what they call MedCottages or Granny Pods, prefabricated guest houses — glorified hospital rooms — that can be plunked down right in a willing child’s backyard.
The standard is 12 feet by 24 feet, and runs $39,000 and up. Sounds pricey, but it’s cheap when you consider the cost of assisted living or skilled nursing care. I know you don’t want to think about this stuff, but I insist, because the chances are 100 percent that this will become the most relevant issue in your life, if it isn’t already.
These pods hook up to local sewage and power lines. They have “virtual” caregivers that remind you over a speaker to “take your meds” or it’s “time for lunch.” The toilets can read body temperature. Floorboards are lighted. The living room has its own defibrillator, and a monitoring system communicates the elder’s activities to a security service. Of course, you can’t sneak a puff, or a sip or anything else fun because Big Brother is watching. Next step, I suppose they could dig a giant hold in the backyard, put a board over it, install the Granny Pod on the wooden foundation and when the elders pass on, just drop that baby into the ground. Dust to dust.
According to the American Association of Retired People, there is little planning in place to deal with the explosion of super-old people coming down the pike — some 70 million by 2030.
I’m sitting at ground zero in this generational squeeze. My parents live on their own, with helpers, in Florida. My sister and I go back and forth as often as we can, which isn’t close to often enough. Of all the things I anticipated worrying about in my 60s, elder care never crossed my mind. Now it’s a daily, consuming and pressing concern.
So, a Granny Pod for Mom and Dad? They actually might go for it, but it doesn’t touch the real concerns. My mother is lonely because my dad sleeps all day. Her friends are gone. What she wants is for us to be there, basically, all the time. Not unreasonable for her, but problematic for us.
Let’s consider the idea of my folks living in my backyard. I could pop in and say hello several times a day. That would be nice. But they would still need helpers every day. Someone would still have to monitor all the meds and devices and the cleaning and meals and TV repair and appliance maintenance and visits to doctors and outings to the rest of the world and finding the missing hearing aids, canes and glasses.
And when the sprinklers went off, it would be a bitch.
A pod in a backyard could work in some situations, perhaps for all the millennial kids who are reportedly moving home to Mom and Dad. But for the frail elderly with no connections to the community, it would be tantamount to climate-controlled storage.
Jumping ahead to my own future elder years, a pod is out of the question for my hubby and me. First, my son’s backyard is a canal in Florida, and my daughter’s is a mountain in the Sierra Nevada. Second, if you put my husband and me in a 12-by-24 space to live out our days, those days would be numbered.
No one in government is dealing with the tsunami of elderly coming our way. That leaves each of us to deal the best we can, which is woefully insufficient. We need communal, political and financial assistance to make life livable for our very old — and for the people caring for them. But a backyard pod?
When my daughter was little, she said she wanted to live in our backyard when she grew up. The wish may get turned around if I decide someday to permanently drop in on her.
Copyright 2023 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at email@example.com.