Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about elder mediation for resolving family conflicts? My mother has Alzheimer’s disease, and to make matters worse, my three siblings and I have been perpetually arguing about how to handle her care and finances. Would this type of service be helpful to us? – Tired of Fighting
If your siblings are willing, elder care mediation may be just what your family needs to help you work through your disagreements. Here’s what you should know.
While mediators have been used for years to help divorcing couples sort out legal and financial disagreements and avoid court battles, elder care mediation is a relatively new and specialized field designed to help families resolve disputes that are related to aging parents or other elderly relatives.
Family disagreements over an ill or elderly parent’s caregiving needs, living arrangements, financial decisions and medical care are some of the many issues that an elder care mediator can help with. But don’t confuse this with family or group therapy. Mediation is only about decision-making, not feelings and emotions.
The job of an elder mediator is to step in as a neutral third party to help ease family tensions, listen to everyone’s concerns, hash out disagreements and misunderstandings, and help your family make decisions that are acceptable to everyone.
Good mediators can also assist your family in identifying experts such as estate-planners, geriatric care managers, or health care or financial professionals who can supply important information for family decision making.
Your family also needs to know that the mediation process is completely confidential and voluntary, and can take anywhere from a few hours to several meetings depending on the complexity of your issues. And if some family members live far away, a speaker phone or Webcam can be used to bring everyone together.
If you’re interested in hiring a private elder care mediator, you can expect to pay anywhere from $100 to more than $400 per hour depending on where you live and who you choose. Or, you may be able to get help through a nonprofit community mediation service which charges little to nothing.
Since there’s no formal licensing or national credentialing required for elder mediators, make sure the person you choose has extensive experience with elder issues and be sure you ask for references and check them. Most elder mediators are attorneys, social workers, counselors or other professionals who are trained in mediation and conflict resolution.
To locate an elder mediator, start by calling your area aging agency (call 800-677-1116 or see www.eldercare.gov to get your local number) which may be able to refer you to local resources. Or try websites like eldercaremediators.com and mediate.com. Both of these sites have directories that will let you search for mediators in your area. Or, use the National Association for Community Mediation website (www.nafcm.org) to search for free or low-cost community-based mediation programs in your area.
Savvy Tip: The Center for Social Gerontology (see www.tcsg.org) provides some good information on their website including an online brochure titled “Caring for an Older Person and Facing Difficult Decisions? Consider Mediation.”
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.