Caring for an elderly relative can be challenging on many levels. Once someone can't live on her or his own anymore, traditional options include moving the relative to the home of another family member, or into a nursing home. But a Virginia company called N2Care has a third way. Its signature product, a MedCottage, offers seniors a way of maintaining independence and protecting their health while staying close to loved ones — in some cases, just a few steps away.

As the company reports, the MedCottage is "a state-of-the-art hospital room with remote monitoring available so caregivers and family members have peace of mind knowing they are providing the best possible care." But it's not actually in a hospital — it's designed to be placed right outside a personal residence. According to the Washington Post, these temporary structures can be set up in a backyard, if local zoning laws allow, as the plumbing and utilities tap into those serving the primary residence.

These "granny pods" may be designed to fit into an existing yard, but they're a long way from being a simple toolshed. Many structures arrive complete with safety features that make it easier for the elderly to remain independent. For example, The New York Times reports that some structures have rubber floors to reduce the damage done by falls. According to an article in the New York Daily News, they also sport features like safety rails, lighted floors, defibrillator machines, and cameras and other electronics that allow others to discreetly monitor the resident's health. 

Not surprisingly, it's a concept that's drawing attention, as evidenced by a discussion on "The Meredith Vieira Show." As the host noted, "when you think about the cost of nursing homes, this might be a very smart thing — and then your mom is with you."