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Mediation For Seniors

Seniors are living longer today. They prefer to remain living in their own homes as long as possible. Seniors like their independence. They want their children to get along with each other. Seniors want to live with dignity and respect. Everyone wants seniors to be safe.

Seniors always know what is best for themselves. The children of seniors never argue about their parent’s care. Seniors have open discussions with their children about financial matters. Seniors are safe to continue driving.

For the most part, the statements in the first paragraph are true. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the statements in the second paragraph.

No one disputes the fact that being independent and active is key to a senior’s mental and physical health.

However, as seniors grow older, decisions often need to be made about where to live, should the senior continue to drive, how should financial affairs be managed and what kind of medical care is appropriate. These are tough emotional decisions often requiring difficult conversations within a family.

There are several housing options available for seniors, including their own home, an apartment, a retirement home, a long term care home (also known as a nursing home) and living with one of the senior’s children. If the senior wants to continue living on his or her own, can something be done to make that feasible?

Very few people want to give up their driver’s licence as they grow older. Many see such a step as a loss of independence. But for most families, that conversation must take place. Options need to be considered. The driving ability of a senior impacts not only the senior, but also everyone who uses the highway.

For some seniors, the financial cost of such things as housing and care is not a concern. But for others, creative ways need to be found in order for the senior to be able to live as independently and safely as possible.

Has the senior signed both a financial power of attorney and a personal care power of attorney? Is the senior’s will up to date? Does the senior even have a will?

Are one or two of the children doing so much of the caregiving that burnout is inevitable? Are those one or two children resentful of their siblings because of the lack of help from the other siblings?

Is everyone being realistic?

What role can the various family members play in the care – including physical and financial – of the senior?

Some families are able to talk openly among themselves about these issues. Sometimes the solutions come easily. Other times there may initially be some raised voices and hurt feelings. But in the end a resolution that everyone feels comfortable with is reached.

Other families put off the discussion until such time as the options are fewer, the emotional turmoil for the senior and the family is greater, the health and safety of the senior is at risk and everyone is in crisis mode. Sometimes relationships among family members are bruised, if not destroyed.

In some families, the topics of finances, investments, wills and powers of attorney are off-limits in conversations between parents and their adult children.

Are there rivalries among the adult children?

If you have more than one person involved in the discussion, many times you will have more than one opinion of what should be done.

This is where elder mediation can be of benefit to the family. Elder mediation focuses on what is best for mom or dad while at the same time minimizing family conflict.

Seniors want to be as independent as possible. Everyone wants seniors to be safe.

Mediation can help those families who are unable to talk openly and calmly about these issues.

Mediation is a process where a neutral person, called a mediator, assists the family to achieve a resolution of the issues to everyone’s mutual satisfaction. The mediator does not take anyone’s side.

The mediator will bring together the senior (where practical), the adult children, sometimes the spouses of the adult children and other necessary family members. If some of these people live a great distance away, perhaps they can participate in the mediation by way of a telephone conference call.

The mediator helps the family have a civilized conversation concerning sensitive, emotional issues.

Everyone – including the senior where practical – will be given an opportunity to be heard and to understand what everyone else is saying. It is important to remember that “understanding” does not mean “agreeing.”

Solutions are only possible when everyone has had an opportunity to express his or her views.

The mediator will do some probing of the underlying and often unspoken issues.

Mediation is confidential and informal. It can take place in the family home, the mediator’s office or some other place where everyone feels comfortable.

The skills and training of the mediator are central to the success of the mediation. In elder mediation it often helps to have a mediator who is trained in elder issues and who has experience working with seniors.

The mediator will create an atmosphere that promotes discussion and makes everyone feels safe.

Some of the other important functions of the mediator are to set guidelines for the behaviour of everyone during the mediation sessions, to facilitate the flow of information, to keep the conversations going and on track, to help everyone think of all of the options, to help break any stalemates that occur, and to act as referee when necessary.

However, the mediator does not tell anyone what the outcome will be. Together the senior and other family members arrive at a solution.

Does the senior and his or her family have all of the facts necessary to make the appropriate decisions?

Sometimes the mediator will suggest obtaining additional information from people such as geriatric care experts and other health care professionals, financial planners, accountants, lawyers and realtors.

The facts, concerns and options of the specific situation can then be shared, reviewed and discussed in a calm, non-threatening manner.

Mediation strengthens family ties and enables all family members to deal with the reality of the situation.

Mediation helps the family to improve their communication skills with each other. In so doing, the relationship among all of the family members improves. This is important for the future of that family.

The idea is to have peace and harmony in the family, instead of war and hostility.


Norman Pickell

Norman Pickell is a mediator and lawyer based in Goderich, Ontario, Canada. He received his law degree in 1972 and was called to the Bar of Ontario in 1974. Although Norman carries on a general law practice as well as a general mediation practice, he has extensive experience in family… MORE >

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