Mediation for Seniors by Norman Pickell
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
For the most part, the statements in the first paragraph are true.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the statements in the second
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
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
In some families, the topics of finances, investments, wills and powers
of attorney are off-limits in conversations between parents and their
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
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
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
Mediation is confidential and informal. It can take place in the family
home, the mediator's office or some other place where everyone feels
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
Norman Pickell is a mediator and lawyer based in Goderich, Ontario.
For more information about mediation, please visit his web site at