Aging in place -- is it for you? | October 14, 2011 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - October 14, 2011

Aging in place -- is it for you?

Late life counselor helps people explore the issues

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Some conversations are difficult to start. Such as talking to elderly parents about whether they will be able to stay in their home as they age.

Life Transitions Counselor Donna Christner-Lile of Pleasanton has published an updated version of her book, "Aging in Place: Safely Living in your 'Home Sweet Home' until you're 100+," to help facilitate just this type of discussion.

"It's meant to be a catalyst to open a conversation with parents," Christner-Lile said.

If someone is seeing their aging mother at Thanksgiving, for instance, they could bring her the book, saying, "You know, Mom, I just found this book. Why don't you read it and we'll talk at Christmas."

The book includes questions to ask a doctor to prepare for a life staying in one's home; how to build a support system; a home-safety checklist; financial issues to consider, and more.

Christner-Lile first planned to be a midlife counselor after she made a midlife career change, leaving the real estate/mortgage world when her son went to college.

"But my internship was at the city of Fremont Human Services -- that's where I saw a real need for help with aging," she said.

Then her 87-year-old mother, Alta, came to live with her for six months of the year, alternating with her sister's home in Texas.

"I was working and starting a new practice. It was pretty strenuous," Christner-Lile recalled. "I started out thinking I was going to save all these old people but I found out I knew nothing when I had mother with me."

Although her sister was retired and had more time to devote to their mother, Christner-Lile said she knew better how to connect with services.

"My sister would struggle with paratransit, medical," Christner-Lile said. "She wasn't as tuned in as I was."

She developed the book with her sister's situation in mind, and it first published in 2006.

"It's not rocket science," Christner-Lile said. "The first chapter is to check with your physician: Are you really able to stay home by yourself? You need to have an honest conversation with your physician.

"Then ask to have a conversation with your children: What can the children do and what's realistic with them."

"We would all love to have our parents with us but if you're still in the working years it's pretty hard unless you have a lot of help," she added. "Also it depends on the level of care the elder needs ... it's really too much in a lot of instances."

The book also addresses home modifications and caregivers, and safety issues such as hoarding.

"I took a certification with USC on home modifications," Christner-Lile said. "The No. 1 cause for anyone to have to go to hospital is because they would fall. Why are they falling?"

Christner-Lile, 63, and her husband Dennis are renovating their townhome with a roll-in shower, she noted, although at this time she's very active.

"I just climbed Half Dome two years ago," she said.

She pointed out that her generation is aging differently than did that of her parents.

"I see tons of people in my age group, exercising and eating far more healthily than our parents did," she said. "They're pushing themselves, climbing mountains, doing marathons."

She points to her neighbors Margaret and Jim Blades, now 90 and 91, as folks who planned ahead for old age, moving in 1999 into their one-story home, which is completely wheelchair accessible.

"We knew we needed to downsize," Margaret said.

She gets her exercise gardening in the house's small patios, and they both enjoy their Meals on Wheels and the folks who deliver them.

"They're all so nice," Margaret said.

Dealing with aging issues led to another business for Christner-Lile Consulting -- Senior Move Managers, which helps people downsize as they move into a senior care or assisted facility. She's affiliated with the National Association of Senior Move Managers.

"The first item of business is if they are going to move -- is it good option? Then, if they are, what do you want to take with you? Who gets the rest?" Christner-Lile said. "A lot of assisted living communities call and we take care of their clients."

She has a team of "high energy women," retired from other careers, who help people downsize, working with them to organize their belongings, packing, shipping off items to other family members.

"Donna's people were absolutely marvelous," said Allie Haxo, 90, who moved to the Kensington in Walnut Creek from her large home in Moraga after living in it for 38 years. "When my husband died, it was a house, it wasn't a home any more. I hate to see these people where their children have to move them and make all the decisions. It wasn't a struggle for me to make the decision to move."

The tough decisions came when she was dealing with all she had accumulated and found that moving companies could not help. CLC Senior Move Managers took on the job.

"We were moving things to the East Coast, to our home in Bodega Bay, my Steinway grand piano moved to the town of Kensington," Haxo recalled. "Two full-sized sculptures were sent to the East Coast, and I had China, silver."

"I would not recommend anybody else," she added. "Everything worked out fine."

"It all comes together," Christner-Lile said. "It's the last transitioning for seniors and their children, getting it right and having some help."

Her book is available at for $10.19.


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