05/14/2012 10:08 am ET Updated May 24, 2012

Assisted Living Alternatives That Keep Aging Parents Close

Although "aging in place" may be the preferred option for seniors, declining health and physical limitations often preclude this option. But an assisted living facility doesn't always need to be the next step for your aging parents.

The “transitional home” phenomenon is a growing trend in senior housing. It’s essentially a more affordable alternative to assisted living in the form of a small structure erected in the backyard of adult children or other primary caregivers, complete with all the amenities aging parents might need. Known more broadly as "accessory dwelling units" (ADUs), this happy compromise allows seniors to maintain their independence, while their children are still on hand to keep an eye on them.

It turns out there are quite a few of these ADUs, or "granny pod"-type products on the market, such as the "pre-fabricated and kit-built environmentally-friendly homes and accessory dwelling units" by FabCab; the Inspired In-Law Cottage by Larson Shores Architects; and the Practical Assisted Living Structures by Rockfall Company LLC, which has already constructed 10 of its units in the Northeast, according to The New York Times.

Another entry to the market, MEDCottage, seems to be unique among ADUs for its high degree of technical sophistication to accommodate the frail or infirm. It offers additional safety features such as rubber floors and a monitoring system (and, with a cost of $85,000 brand new, a much higher price tag). The first MEDCottage was unveiled in 2010, but will have its first real-world test this month, according to The New York Times.

Of course, if caregivers are willing to make the investment, remodeling their home to accommodate their aging parents is also an option. With a first-floor bedroom and grab bars in the bathroom in place, seniors needing additional care can move right in.