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Family Members at One Another’s Throats? Call In the Mediator.

Family Members at One Another’s Throats? Call In the Mediator.

Trained negotiators can help families struggling with vexing elder-care issues.

The four adult children were in agreement.

Their father, William Curry, a retired electrical engineer and business executive, was sinking deeper into dementia. They had found a memory care facility about a mile from their parents’ house in Chelmsford, Mass., where they thought Mr. Curry would do better.

But their mother, Melissa, who was 83 when her family began urging her to make this change in 2016, remained determined to continue caring for her 81-year-old husband at home, despite the increasing toll on her own health. When her children raised the issue of a move, “she wouldn’t discuss it,” said her daughter, Shannon Curry, 56. “She’d clam up. Sometimes she’d cry.”

Yet Melissa Curry’s memory was faltering, too. She would forget to give her husband his medications, or get the doses wrong. The family worried about falls and fires. Even after they persuaded her to accept a hired aide several days a week, the couple was still alone most of the day as well as overnight.

As the weeks passed, “we were really at an impasse,” Ms. Curry said. “Do you override your mother?”

Enter the mediator. Through a friend, Ms. Curry learned about Elder Decisions, a company offering “elder adult family mediation.” Her parents and siblings all agreed to give it a try. Crystal Thorpe, the company’s principal and founder, and a co-mediator, Rikk Larsen, interviewed family members by phone, then scheduled a session around the parents’ dining room table.

Often associated with business disputes or divorce and custody cases, trained mediators can also help families struggling with an array of vexing elder-care issues: appropriate living arrangements, care responsibilities, communication and information sharing, and health and financial decisions.

When families seek mediation, they “want to do what is best, but have different perspectives on what ‘best’ might mean,” Ms. Thorpe explained.

Sometimes a court orders elder mediation, typically involving guardianship or estates and inheritances. How often that happens depends on state laws and an individual judge’s enthusiasm for the process.

“It would be great if more judges said, ‘You need a mediator; choose one from the approved list,’” said JulieAnn Calareso, president of the New York chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

But increasingly, families seek elder mediation privately, before disputes land in court and imperil or destroy family relationships.

Read the complete article here.

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