Aging in Place Making Better Bad Choices 

aging in place

One day you will do things for me that you hate. That is what it means to be family.

~ Jonathan Safran Foer


Aging in Place 


I’ve struggled with whether to post this personal experience because in some ways it feels like a betrayal; and I was also concerned about how it might be received by others. What won out was my commitment to be part of the solution—and so here is my story:

Aging in Place: A Most Personal Story

My mother passed away in October of 2017 at the age of 90. She had open heart surgery when she was 84. At that time, she lived with her brother (76) and sister (85) in a small and very cluttered house–the house that I grew up in.

One of my first cars was an empty Dodge van, I bought it so I would always have a place to go—there was no room in the house. We never had friends over or social events at the house. As adults my sisters and I couldn’t stay overnight—literally no place to lie down. Two of the main rooms have not been inhabited for 30 years due to clutter. This eventually had a direct effect on their ability to remain home by choice.

I knew before open heart surgery the dwelling was going to need aging-in-place modifications and de-cluttering—so I began to introduce the idea months ahead of time (it’s actually been years). My suggestions were not welcomed, nor embraced, and in fact caused defensive resistance. As the surgery date neared, I capitulated and sadly knew the dark storm that was offshore brewing.

Home from the Hospital

After a successful surgery and a month in a rehab center she was brought back to her home; which was not set up to accommodate a walker due to clutter. Suddenly the reality of the situation began to sink in. The walker barely cleared the piles of stuff in the hall, and the bathroom was not accessible.

I sadly witnessed her attempts to negotiate this inhospitable environment and my heart sank. Her brother, a loving presence, has resisted any suggestions of aging-in-place modifications or de-cluttering. So, as he struggled to get her to the bathroom, I stepped in to help—it was then that I feel he began to see for the first time the limitations of the surroundings.

This presented a narrow window of opportunity…

Trying to Make Better Bad Choices   

It’s quite Ironic (and crazy), here I am supposedly a “content expert” in the area of aging in place (after all I own the .com) and I’m running around mid-week in this small town of very limited resources looking for aging-in-place products!

I ran to the local drug store only to find a single choice (not my first choice) for a bath chair, the last one on the shelf, and less than optimal shower curtains to take the place of the glass doors I had to remove. My sister the week before had purchased a raised toilet seat that was met with predictable resistance—until they tried it…Instant converts.


Dealing with family can be the most challenging, go to any web site on care giving and you’ll find resource after resource on the topic. It’s all academic, until it happens to you.

My mother’s sister admitted to me she didn’t want the visiting nurse to be called because “she would make us clear out the clutter,” something I wasn’t able to do.

My family does not view me as a professional; they never have trusted people with educations and have reminded me of this on several occasions. So I don’t talk much about mine. And as a number of their generation, they haven’t embraced technology, thus they’ve never been curious about my web site or professional activities.

I mention this only in point of reference and to help the reader understand this scenario. I know what to do and how to help (I’ve studied environmental gerontology since 1993) yet the elders in my family didn’t choose to listen and be proactive.

Instead of sitting down, making a plan, preparing ahead of time, and purchasing from the wide range of aging-in-place products and trying them out first, the situation became one of reaction-after-the-fact. Crisis mode isn’t optimal when making important choices; possibilities become limited and tunnel vision sets in.

This all could have been avoided, leading to a much smoother transition and better long-term outcomes. They just didn’t see the value of planning ahead or want to deal with change. As the kids say; “that’s just how they roll.”

The Aging in Place Issue

Aging-in-place professionals frequently face these kinds of issues with clients—and often with family. What we’re promoting is independence and quality of life and these are not products that are shiny, make you look slimmer, or taste good—rather they are by-products. And by-products, not unlike good health, have to be experienced then lost before they are valued; this is a harder sell.

My in-laws are just the opposite (I want to avoid comparison here). My father-in-law is a retired pharmacist; he knows the value of health and planning ahead. They recently installed a comfort-height Toto toilet. He’s had some knee issues and pro-actively took steps to improve their quality of life by making a simple change. They love it.

His brother-in-law questioned why they needed it? And wanted to know why they spent the money (subtext: Why did you waste the money?)? This brings to mind an ancient Zen saying:

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

Not everyone is ready, but the teacher is aging and will appear. Getting people to make their future a part of their current philosophy has never been a breeze—it just seems to go against human nature; but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try…especially with those we love.

My goal in posting this was to keep others from making the same painful mistakes—and to show that even someone versed in the knowledge of aging in place can have challenges convincing his own family it’s the sensible thing to do.

I pray this causes the reader to think more proactively about the issue of aging in place…should that happen I will consider this post and website, a success.


A Successful Aging in Place Story from Craig Lill

Simplifying Daily Living

For me it was my mother-in-law moving in that reinforced my ideas on simplifying daily living.

She was typical, everything was OK, and she could adjust. She had a fake leg named Oliver which made stairs difficult. When I offered to put in a ramp, she said ramps where harder to walk up the stairs. I put in stairs with a 4″ rise or 1/2 steps as she would call them.

Since then I have had many people comment on how easy it was to walk up the steps. She was very good at explaining what would help her and why. The best ideas came when she was busy trying to do a simple task. A quick question, “Janet, what would help make that easier to do?” Without thinking the answer would come.

Her room was by the main entrance to the house. I thought it would be too noisy, NOT, everybody went to her room first unless the door was closed. She was part of the action, part of life.

I would take the generic recommendation and then personalize it to fit her. Since then, I have installed kitchen wall cabinets at heights that let a couple use the first shelf without using step stool. The wife was overjoyed to be able to reach the first shelf.

Assisted Living units have many good features, but they have to be more generic. In a home it should be personalized to the individual in need. Most items can be removed, holes patched and painted when not needed anymore. A curbless shower, raised toilet, handrails actually make life easier for everyone, it could become your favorite bathroom.

Personal Statement from Craig:

I design kitchens and have always been amazed at how people
won’t improve the ease and usefulness of their kitchens or bathrooms. The reasons are usually: “Yes, that would make it easier for me but I am use to doing it this way.” The other one would be: “You just want to make more money off of me.”

Friends of mine just redid their first-floor bathroom, added a
curb-less shower, raised toilet and pedestal sink, she raves about it, life is so much easier. She wanted to do this when they bought the house 20 years ago but he wouldn’t let her. ” We don’t need that, waste of money.” He now has Alzheimer’s with a live-in aid. Life is simpler now.

Craig Lill is a BPI Certified Building Analyst: [email protected]

Remodeling Now to Avoid Accessibility Problems Later

What’s Possible With Willing Family Members:

Successful Aging in Place Talk Early…Talk Often

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