Business Booming for Elder Mediators, As Boomers & Aging Parents Collide

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 04 March 2011

Difficult family dynamics and the subsequent impact on caregiving was the focus of our #eldercarechat in late February. If you missed the chat, check out the transcript: #eldercarechat.

Most of us have family, whether we like them or not. And you may or may not love having holiday dinners together, but having a discussion about who gets Mom’s house when she passes away or who is in charge of making Dad’s caregiving arrangements when his dementia worsens…well, even for the most loving families, these are tense topics.

Consequently, business is booming for elder mediators, says the Wall Street Journal’s recent piece, “A. Referee for Family Disputes.

Writer Anne Tergesen gives us the lay of the land – why more and more people are engaging these professionals (i.e. they’re avoiding the cost and lack of confidentiality that litigation incurs), why some of them aren’t the most professional of folks (i.e. it’s currently not a regulated industry), and what these mediators will/will not do (i.e. facilitating conversations, not giving advice).

If your family chooses to hire an elder mediator, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is trouble in paradise. Consider this quote from 60-year-old Polly Osborne:

“…she and her siblings, though close, had ‘no idea how to solve the issues we found ourselves facing,’ such as how to bequeath a family compound with three residences to a younger generation with seven members.”

Having an impartial third party at the table can be very helpful, especially if your family is close.  A good mediator can preserve the family bond while guiding the group through a stressful scenario like the Osbornes faced.

What I believe makes this process work is that, ideally, everyone is at the table together, discussing the situation at hand, rather than resorting to placing blame/avoiding responsibility via “he said, she said” or “you just want Dad’s money” cop-outs. Those things probably come up – and I imagine that elder mediators witness some pretty heated debates, depending on the family history and chemistry – but the mediator’s presence will hopefully offset some of this conflict, or at least corral the chaos and move the herd towards collaboration.

In our #eldercarechat conversation, we determined that denial is an underlying cause for many family conflicts in these caregiving situations. Siblings in denial about the severity of Dad’s dementia can wreak havoc on decision-making and, subsequently, the decision maker.  Adult children who cannot accept Mom’s decision to stop cancer treatments may argue with or lash out at their father, who stands by his wife’s choice.

There is a fine line between a peaceful acceptance and a hopeless surrender, an issue we also confronted in our #eldercarechat, but ultimately, denial that is not properly dealt with can really shatter and splinter the family unit in times when solidarity and support would better serve.

Find out more about elder mediators: EldercareMediators.com or Mediate.com

-Michelle Seitzer


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