Family conflict over elder care can be helped by mediation

  • Are you sick of arguing with Dad over his driving? Is Mom unable to handle her checkbook, but she'll be darned if she'll let "you kids" take over? Is your older brother dead set against Dad going to a locked Alzheimer's unit, even though he's wandered away from Mom's care three times, once in the dead of winter?


    Family problems can get sticky. Well, we all know that. But when our parents are getting to a point where it's evident that they can't make decisions for themselves, but they are too strong-willed or set on maintaining what they view as their independence, sometimes a trained third party can help wade through the pool of family dynamics that has remained stagnant for decades.

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    One resource that is being sought by families who disagree about the care of an elder is "elder mediation." recently ran an informative article titled, "Mediators Help Families With Tough Choices Of Aging." The article acknowledges that family dynamics enter into the picture, once siblings are faced with decisions about their aging parents.


    If family dynamics weren't terribly healthy in the first place, all of the decisions that need to be made about ailing parents aren't going to improve this interaction. I hear often from siblings who don't agree on how their parents should be cared for. This situation begs for a trained third party to help mediated the family squabbles.


    Frequently, there is one sibling who lives closest to the parents and she ( I say "she" though more men are caregivers than ever before) starts out with the attitude that she is just happy to help. However, as is the case with most caregiving, the responsibility grows. Eventually, questions come into play about whether to hire more help, who should handle the parents' money and if and when a nursing home is appropriate.


    There are many reasons that siblings disagree on care. One, of course, is that when a son or daughter doesn't live near a parent, and it's well known the parents are being well cared for, why rock the boat? So, the distant son or daughter just lets the person who lives nearby do the work. It can become a situation where denial rules. The caregiving sibling asks for help, but the person who doesn't live nearby doesn't have a clue to how much work the parents have become. There's no cooperation. Ignorance is bliss.


    Sometimes the motive for not hiring help for the parents is truly heart-felt. The parents prefer to have a family member care for them, therefore that's how it should be. And the person who has been providing care all along is expected to continue doing so. Sometimes, however, the motive is less pretty. It costs money to hire in-home help, to get the parents to adult day care, to get them into assisted living centers or nursing homes. A lot of money. And the more money spent on this type of care, the less there is to inherit.


    Most often, the differences aren't quite that glaring. It is more about not "getting" what all the care involves. But if the siblings didn't get along well before the parents became elderly and unable to care for themselves, then the relationship between siblings isn't likely to improve during the turmoil that surrounds decision making for the ailing parents


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    There may be many options for this family, but each family member has taken a stance and no one is moving because no one can see the other person's viewpoint. It's all too emotional. A dispassionate third party can cut through the emotion and help the family make decisions. The NPR article suggests two Websites to check if you are interested in a mediator. One is Elder Mediators and the other is the Association for conflict Resolution.


    It's unfortunate that these services aren't available everywhere, and the services do cost money. But it's a very good option for families who disagree on how their parents should be cared for. If you can't find someone in your area that qualifies as an elder mediator, you may find a geriatric care manager or a counselor at a non-profit organization that can help your family through this uncomfortable phase. Even a pastor, Rabbi or a long-time family friend can be an option. Third party help can clear the air of emotion and bring some reason into family dynamics. It's certainly worth a try.


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Published On: April 20, 2009