6 Surprising Reasons Elder Mediation Might Help

Last updated: February 12, 2009
3D Realty Handshake
Image by lumaxart used under the creative commons attribution share alike license.

There's little that's more frustrating than doing your best in a situation involving the welfare of an elder -- only to have your choices criticized or opposed by a sibling, parent, or other family member. Hello super stress.

Family disagreements are nothing new. But when you're all grown-ups, you can't slug it out in the backyard or send anybody to their room. At least, not if you plan to resolve anything. That leaves nitpicking, debating, raising voices -- or ceasing to talk to one another altogether. And when that's not productive, then what?

That's when you can try something relatively new: Elder mediation.

You might think of mediators in connection with the Middle East or high-profile corporate disputes. But many family mediators specialize in handling situations related to aging or ill relatives. They're a fast-growing subset of the mediation world.

If you're like me,; the very word "mediator" may at first ring complicated -- and expensive. But a closer look convinces me that elder mediators are actually one of the many unsung heroes of elder-care conundrums. They know how to get competing viewpoints aired in a constructive way and move past family dynamics (like, "once the baby, always the baby," even if you're 50-plus). Critically, they also understand the unique issues of aging.

So, 6 surprising reasons elder mediation might help:

  1. To slice your stress level in half. If you're a hands-on caregiver, why waste your slim-to-nonexistent energy on bickering or defending yourself, when an independent figure with listening and problem-solving skills can become the magnet for high-running emotions? (Not to mention push family members past blame and toward a common goal.)
  2. To help everybody move on (whether you all end up sending birthday cards to one another or not). Hard situations can gum up families for years. Mediators tackle toughies like charges of favoritism by a parent, step-family tangles, who should handle financial or legal affairs, or an abusive or uncaring parent who's come back in everyone's lives needing help. If everyone is willing to come to the table aiming for a solution, the odds increase that one can be
  3. found.
  4. To help an aging parent's wish for family harmony come true. Parents hate knowing they're "causing anybody any trouble" and hate to be the cause of rifts. And they know when they are. Most elder mediation sessions helpfully involve the central figure, even in cases of dementia, unless they're too infirm to be able to contribute.
  5. To make a plan. You don't need a Hatfield-McCoy-level feud to see a mediator. A calm, neutral forum is a great way to sort through confusing options on where an older relative should live or painful, emotionally-charged ones where nobody's sure what to do, like end of life care.
  6. To get far-flung families on the same page. Ideally all the parties get together to hash out a conflict. But mediators will usually work with those who are long distance, after a starter group session or by conference call.
  7. To save money. Especially these days, it can seem unreasonable to spend money solving an argument. Initial elder mediation consults are often free, then cost $150 and up per hour, varying by area. Some issues can be resolved in just a session or two, others longer. But mediating a conflict (especially over questions of guardianship or estates) avoids far more costly court battles in which a judge decides. Then there's the question of what peace of mind and moving on with your life are worth.

Ideally, families split the tab. "When parties share the cost, the investment in the process is usually greater," notes Debbie Reinberg, an elder mediator with ELDEResolutions in Denver.

You might have more luck than you think bringing sibs to the table. Mediators say that baby boomers are pretty comfortable"talking things out" and take to the idea better than their parents. But parents are more persuadable by benefits I just outlined, like financial savings.

To find a family mediator, ask a local geriatric care manager or lawyer. (Many mediators are themselves CGMs or attorneys, although the person you use should be an impartial third party to all involved.) Try for someone with a lot of experience working with elder concerns because they have training in dealing with situations that tend to be highly emotional; look for the moniker "elder mediator."

Was this blogpost helpful?

16 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

over 3 years ago

Hugs, thoughts and prayers to all Caregivers everywhere. This is a great website for those of us who can't carry on the life we used to have because we have become caregivers, not only of the aged, but also of disabled adults and children. I like to think of our jobs, although we may sometimes feel it's like being in hell, could instead be outrstairway to Heaven! vjo

over 3 years ago

This was helpful for normal situations. However, when you have a situation that is so volatile, it is impossible to get the parties together. I experienced the latter situation and it was horrendous. My mother was a hoarder and my brother(1) who was also a hoarder and included another brother(2) who was a hoarder from another state than where we three lived would continue their hoarding by bringing "things" into my mother's home after my family cleaned out the entire main floor of the house because the town was going to have it condemned as unfit for human habitation because of all the hoarding. Both brothers caused tremendus stress for me, but I tried to focus on Mother as this article suggests. They did everything to put me down, but I tried to keep my focus on the caregiving. It was so bad that eventually I had to get a caregiver to get a break and they both scourged me and the caregiver and made derogatory ethnic slurs in order to make the new caregiver leave. They did not succeed. Torment her was their motto, but they did not succeed. It is important as this article stipulates to keep our focus when dealing with siblings in these situations. Thanks for the article...My mother has passed, my brother (1) no longer speaks to me and is suffering from results of hight blood pressure, heart attack, etc. and brother(2) is deceased...he pased 6 months before Mother did. I now have peace in my life knowing I took care of Mother without being deterred in my efforts by such destructive brothers. VJO

over 4 years ago

I just buried my father 3 days ago. My 7 siblings have all been absent for the past 3 years. I emailed detailed info regarding my fathers care with dialysis, hemochromatosis, the continuous problems with caring for an 80 year old man, fecal incontinence, the cost was insurmountable. Now, all of a sudden, they all have opinions, want everything, taking over his property that I also took care of, along with going to school. No respect for me, no thank yous, just mud slinging. It is such a mess. The sibling rivalries come full circle and continue as we are all adults. Out of towners come in, try to take over, cause trouble then leave. I am suspect of everything, questions mounting. It is hideous how I am treated. Even stealing my flowers from the funeral home that were from my coworkers and friends. This has stressed me out so bad. They are so ungrateful, I don't know how to act. I wrote two of them off already, never wanting any contact whatsoever, and I know this may bite me in the arse one day, but It is very painful to bear this burden. How do I come up from this and recover? How do I cope and heal? Dad had no will, no poa, only a few things written down. I am not even allowed to go and get my own belongings from his house where I lived for 2 1/2 years prior to moving him in with me. I saved that mans life so many times, he fought death 6 times with my help. No one seems to care about anything except what they can get, what he left me, and gossiping on the phone. Back stabbing, guilt ridden people, my siblings. What a disgrace.

over 4 years ago

HELP. My sister and I are at ugly war. 6 months after my Dad passed away- about caring for our mother. AHHHHHH. She took total control, made decisions behind my back, hides the bank books- so I backed out- now she is RAGING about how exhausted she is and saying the most hideous things- I am deleting her email unopened. She was always both favorite and a bully- took what she wanted- but this is really hideous.

Anonymous said almost 5 years ago

Carlotta; Excellent insight. Even when it's not a Senior citizen, but a disabled mid-age spouse and the extended family, what you say is true. I could not believe, nor could I ever have been prepared for the intense emotions, out of the blue actions, distrust, and anger. Not from the disabled relative/spouse, mind you, - but from his family members. These are people I thought I knew, and who always seemed normal and reasonable before his injury. Hiring a family mediator is a very good suggestion. It may have helped us before resentments built up.

about 5 years ago

I am learning that in our family dynamic, it is almost better to say less than more. We have the same issues -- daughters do most of the work, but the sons do most of the criticizing ("you know what mom needs is...."), even though the sons may not have had any contact (phone or in person) for weeks. I used to spend a lot of energy (phone calls, emails, etc) trying to get my siblings involved. I would say things like "you haven't been here for six weeks" or "I check their caller ID and you never call". I used to send out really lengthy emails with details about doctor visits, meds, etc. All totally a waste of time -- they either never read it or else would criticize it. So my new strategy is to act stupid and ask for suggestions. "The doctor thinks maybe mom's irritation is due to depression. Do you think that could be right?" "Mom has trouble getting up the stairs to go to bed at night - what do you think we should do?". What I am finding is that the siblings seem to be more involved. They call her up to see if she sounds depressed. They help her up the stairs to see if she really has trouble. They are still full of "you should do this or that" comments, but I am sensing a more cohesive family unit trying to pull together for the sake of what is best for mom, rather than the brother/sister rivalry. I'm also trying the positive reinforcement plan as well, with lots of "mom told me how great it was to see you over the weekend" comments. There's a book called "The Dance of Anger" by Harriet Lehrer that basically says arguments will have the same script. If one person changes, then the 'dance' changes, which can thereby change the outcome. best of luck -- we are all feeling our way along..

Anonymous said about 5 years ago

about 5 years ago

Our family conflict was so bad that we have not had contact with my husbands brothers for over 2 and a half years. The son that is durable power of attorney has his head stuck in the sand about their 83 year old moms health issues. My husband and I live 20 minutes from her, the dpoa lives over an hour away, the others are 3000 miles away and 500 miles away. I was doing a lot of the caring for my mother in law until she decided I was "stealing" all her stuff, like lotion, Bible bookmark, and most recently (even though I have not spoken to her or been to her house in over 2 yrs, her eye exercise video!. My husband and I wanted to have her checked out by a neurologist because she does have a diagnosis over 4 years old of dementia, but they are all in denial about that. She began several years ago with smelling things in her house, then other houses, then the car. It got so bad she was calling the gas company constantly and 911. Even after a new furnace and 3 chimney liners in as many months, she was not satisfied, so she went most of the winter with the heat off. She has hit a car in a parking lot, ripped a part of it off and was dragging it behind her car, but was totally unaware...until police were waiting for her when she came out of the store. This was 4 or 5 years ago. She has hit the fence separating her yard from a neighbors, and I know this because her driveway is by the fence, the neighbors have no drive way, they park on the street. She writes letter to police chief claiming there are homeless people sleeping in her car, she puts spike nails sharp side up around her fence perimeter, which the city made her remove. She was sure there were people stealing her tomatoes! She falls frequently, and has had surgery on an arm from the fall. She also had quad bypass surgery 3 years ago, is diabetic (but claims that is a lie, the doctor is in a cospiracy), so she eats whatever she wants and does not control blood sugars. She also has high blood pressure and is on meds for that, but she insists on buying scam "herbs" and cancer cures from phony "doctors" that send her magazines to order from. She orders stuff, then calls the credit card company saying it is identity theft because she does not remember doing it! She lines up soap bottles in her basement and takes lids off, and then accusing my husband of breaking in and doing it. But my husbands brothers say there is nothing wrong with her! She lives alone, still drives, and has control of her finances even though she has had to refinance her house 3 times for credit card debt to Home Shopping and "herbs" etc. We cannot resolve this family conflict because the brothers refuse to acknowledge that she needs to be checked by DMV to see if she should be driving, and she definitely needs a neurologist and gerontologist to look her over really good. They all refuse. They have made me feel like I am crazy or something for thinking there could be anything wrong with their mom, even though she calls and accuses me of stealing from her, and even reports me to the police for it! Advice????

about 5 years ago

Elder care mediators have a specialized process knowledge base and understanding of the life changing issues faced by elders and their families. They assist in navigating the uncertain path created by unplanned changes in the physical, emotional, and relational well being of parents. Elder care mediator's are focused on serving the elders and the families through offering a process that creates a safe space for an often difficult dialogue. Your elder care mediator should NOT be a caregiver or your care manager. Elder care mediators (and mediators in general) are always neutral parties. Look on the local link on this site and search for mediators. Also conduct a county or city internet search under the keywords "elder care mediation in _____ county and (state)" This should lead you to local resources. Be certain you find a mediator with a specialization in elder care/gerontology! For example, Accordo Mediation Specialists, LLC has elder care specialists who are certified mediators through their elder care division.

about 5 years ago

I am a caregiver by default and proximity for an 80 yr old roommate with two broken hips. He relies on me for everything except financial. He is hyper-critical, derides me, is adept at denying responsibility for his actions (I'm always the culprit) and has a ready excuse for being unable to cooperate with my "badgering" requests. IE, "Could you please throw your wet clothes (incontinence)in the plastic pale rather than on the hardwood floors?" "Stop yelling at me!," is his usual response. His reactions to any efforts to reason have been to make an anti-Semitic remark, threats to call the police for "harassing" him and, most recently, the repetition of how much he hates me and his hope I will soon die (I have a brain tumor). A worker bathes him weekly. I prepare meals, shop, do laundry, take care of the dog. I've stopped talking to him because this seems the only way to avoid conflict. My one attempt to engage his social worker in a mediation process was a disaster. My roommate ranted that I had no "rights" to complain, that I was "just a roommate" and had overstepped my bounds. I'm at my wits end.

Anonymous said about 5 years ago

Strange things happen with our Mother; hard of hearing, memory problems, quick changes from inability to co-operate in daily living chores to the opposite. Now that she has 3 caregivers the problems are more often than not. 15 yrs. difference in ages of daughters cause resentment issues in care decisions, tho all are educated in nursing to various degrees. Blame goes from " abuse" to "pampering" on the different sides

about 5 years ago

My husband was sick for about a year, before he passed. I had no support from his sibling and father.Since his death, I am not included in nothing. What should I do?

about 5 years ago

journey: you are doing the right thing. Sometimes our spouses are not as able to deal with their emotions very well when it involves people they care about. I witnessed my husband doing the same thing. It was easier for him to vent on me than admit what he was really feeling. My suggestion: be like teflon when this happens, don't let it stick to you. It's not about you, you are just in the line of fire.

about 5 years ago

Oh God!! I was going to write about this very subject just yesterday, but, my mother-in-law (who has middle stage dementia/Alzheimer's) fell and I was wrapped up in taking care of her. I am the sole caregiver of my mother-in-law. I see to her every need, including talking with all the doctors and dealing with the pallative care group that comes into the home. Its from my observations that they come up with a medicine plan for her. She is progressing rapidly with the disease right now and we have had to add a couple of new medicines. I try to explain to my husband (her son - who does literally nothing to help me..even though he works at home) the need for the medicines and what to expect from them, especially the first few days while her body is adjusting to them. He throws a fit and blames the rapid progression of her disease on the medicines. I print off articles from the internet that describes the disease and its stages, yet, he doesn't seem to get it. Its so frustrating to me. He goes on and on about it so much that I start to second guess myself and the doctors/nurses that are taking care of her over the medicines. He makes me feel guilty that I could be adding to her condition and making her worse. We tried to set up a family meeting with the doctors, nurses and case worker assigned to her from the pallative care group so that he would finally get it, but, so far, haven't been able to do it. After her fall yesterday, I told my husband about it and, of course, he blamed it all on the medicines, although he knows she's been falling for years, long before any hardcore medicines were introduced to her. I called her nurse and had her come out, just to make sure my mother-in-law was okay. I explained (again) to the nurse my husband's reaction. After she left (mother-in-law was shaken but fine, btw), she called my mother-in-law's primary care doctor and explained to him what was going on. They called me this morning to set up an appointment with my mother-in-law, my husband and myself. I'm not sure how he's going to take this and am worried about it. My main goal is to make whatever time my mother-in-law has left as pain free and peaceful as I can. I would never allow anything to happen to her that would hurt her, but, am so close to telling the husband to find someone else to take care of her, yet, I know that no one else will. They will say, "put her in a home", and I don't want to do that as long as I can. Obviously, a mediator won't work in my situation. Does anyone have any suggestions for me on how to deal with a spouse that is battling me on everything, yet, really has no clue as to what is going on?? Sorry I went on and on...just really need some advice here. Thanks!

Anonymous said about 5 years ago

Though it is a good idea to have a mediator for resolving family disagreements for care giving, how do we know that the mediator is not biased by his mindset. I know of cases where the woman is always held responsible for every problem that arises in the family, whether it be a heavy electricity bill, kids not faring well in school, the food not being palatable enough. In short even a superwoman would be a failure. How does one find a reliable mediator who does not add fuel to the fire?

over 5 years ago

Having worked with seniors and their families for many years now the one thing that's for sure when it comes to dealing with aging parents is a different family dynamic happens. If you've not had any family disfunction you'll have it now and if you've already have difunction it will magnify. Always remember how your parents would want you to be acting. Planning ahead with their involvement is the key to making all this less stressful. Keep a sense of humor.

Stay Connected With Caring.com

Receive the latest news and tips in your inbox

Join our social communities:

Best in Health News