A desire to maintain independence for as long as possible combined with spiralling care costs and worries about the quality of the care that is on offer mean families are looking for alternative ways to look after elderly relatives.Not only is erecting a granny annexe in the garden relatively cheap but it also maintains privacy for both parties.

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‘I can live my life while he can live his,’ she says.

For Andy, 59, who lives in the village of Bardsey to the north of Leeds, the benefit is knowing that his mother is not lonely.‘Where Mum used to live, she belonged to the Women’s Institute but talking to her she said her loneliness was about the day-to-day stuff, eating on her own at night and having no-one to chat to,’ he says.‘When I looked into it I realised that living alone can actually accelerate ageing.

‘The benefit here is by moving into an annexe, older people not only release their capital but allow their family house to go back on the market.’Of all the problems facing the country, how to care for a rapidly ageing population is one of the most pressing.

Soaring life expectancy means people will soon spend at least two decades in retirement.

And campaigners warned that many people — particularly pensioners — were suffering in silence, as the majority had not told their family how they felt.

What’s more, Age UK has found in the past that 1.2 million older people in Britain are chronically lonely, with half a million over-60s usually spending every day alone.

Now Mum is just down the bottom of the garden so we can have dinner together each day.

Being able to have daily contact and something to look forward to is important.’And the Lowes are at the forefront of a new family dynamic — with the garden acting as a buffer between the generations.

But squeezed social care budgets mean that for those who do stay in their own homes, any minor care needs are increasingly falling upon relatives’ shoulders.