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Sometimes Your Family Needs a Neutral Third Party

Bill Cohen - Cohen Caregiving Support on Dementia MapSubmitted by Bill Cohen, CSA
Cohen Caregiving Support Consultants LLC

Is your family struggling to agree regarding a family member’s care? Or, are relatives challenging your caregiving decisions?

Elder Mediation may be just right for you!

Rather than taking matters to court or arbitration where a legal professional decides for you, you or your clients might benefit from, if not require, a neutral third party.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you?

  1. You and your siblings are mostly in agreement about caring for aging parents, but you can’t resolve one or two major issues.
  2. Your family is at odds and at an impasse regarding a family member’s care.
  3. You have step siblings or distant relatives who disagree with or challenge your decisions on caring for a family member.
  4. You have Durable Power of Attorney for your spouse but other relatives, maybe an adult child, have a lot of opinions and/or offer unsolicited advice without helping with the care.
  5. You are an only child who is caring for an aging parent.
  6. All of the above

Numbers 1-3 are certainly candidates for help from a neutral party. Number 4 is unlikely, but an option. On number 5, the sole benefit is not having to get others’ approval (hopefully, you are getting some support and respite!)

However, in my experience, few families are all on the same page and, sadly, many disagree on almost everything. And family dynamics, developed over many years and probably decades, will play a significant factor and may prove insurmountable.

There are ways to overcome these issues.

I was recently working with a family with four siblings spread around the Pacific Northwest. They were sharply divided about where their aging mother should be cared for and by whom.

She had already been moved multiple times from the family home. One sibling in alliance with another wanted her to stay in the nearby care facility. The other two siblings felt that one of them could care for mom better in her home due to the environment, her healthcare background, and the presence of beloved grandchildren and farm animals.

They needed and could benefit from an objective mediator.

No one was going to get everything they preferred, but the goal was to find common ground they all could be satisfied with. By getting everyone’s input, individually and jointly and including the parent’s, and having regular conversations to keep the dialogue going, they were able to come to a reasonably amicable arrangement for mom’s care.

The Bottom Line

Mom‘s welfare was paramount, and to maintain as good quality of life as possible for whatever time she has left.

It was gratifying to assist these siblings over several months to come to a good place and decision. I’ll never forget one sibling’s exclamation at one point that was particularly positive: “well, at least we’re not yelling at each other!”

What is Elder Mediation?

According to the National Care Planning Council:

“Elder mediation provides a forum for family decision-making. It is private, confidential, and completely voluntary. Mediators facilitate a purposeful and directed conversation in which family members are encouraged to express their interests and concerns.”

From the ADR Academy in Florida:

“A trained elder mediator assists elders and their families as they make the important decisions that impact their quality of life.”

Elder Mediation Topic Areas

In cases of dementia and cognitive impairment in particular, some issues where the parties may consider or agree to Elder Mediation are:

Elder Mediation
Courtesy: Bill Cohen
  • Health care and medical decisions
  • Driving
  • Religious issues
  • Residence, living, and caregiving issues
  • Family business issues
  • Incapacity/guardianship
  • Abuse/Neglect
  • Estate Planning
  • Some claims of financial abuse/ exploitation

More about Elder Mediation from the National Care Planning Council:

“Mediation isn’t simply an alternative to litigation, a ‘last resort’ forum without the lawyers. Elder mediation is just as effective, and often more effective, at the beginning of the decision-making process – when people are fact finding, struggling with options and discovering feelings about their parents, their siblings or other family members that well up and make clear thinking difficult.”

Creative Solutions Are Best

The process of mediation allows families to develop creative solutions to challenges in a way that the courts cannot. Courts rarely have the time or resources to explore options that would reflect the best interests of the senior while avoiding protracted family conflict.

And mediation is efficient. No long-drawn-out proceedings followed by potential appeals and more proceedings…all the while damaging the family, upsetting the senior, and draining finances.

Better Sooner Than Later

And early intervention is always best, before the family is in crisis. When an important family discussion is needed about a developing major life transition, a trained neutral third party can simply convene a family meeting to create the space for everyone to be heard.

This type of meeting can strengthen family ties and enable all family members to deal with the changing nature of their relationships and the realities of their situation. It allows family dynamics, including sibling rivalries, to be addressed at a time when everyone is calm and thoughtful decision-making can occur.

What They Are Not!

Please note that an Elder Mediator is not a therapist, however, and will not solve family issues or dynamics. Although the mediator will not decide for you, they will help you reach a decision that hopefully everyone can live with. In most cases, no one will get everything they want.

Since I became a Caregiving Support Consultant and Certified Senior Advisor®, increasingly I assume this role for families whom I advise and guide. Please feel free to contact me to ascertain if this seems suitable for your family or if you have any questions on how an Elder Mediator can help you on this and other matters.

I can support you and your family, or your clients.

I’ve been there.


Bill Cohen - Cohen Caregiving Support on Dementia MapBill Cohen, CSA
Cohen Caregiving Support Consultants LLC


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