Elder Mediation: What is it and Why do I need it?

Elders and their families face a complex, confusing maze of big, life changing decisions, and most people only navigate this maze of decisions on a need to do basis. What that usually amounts to, if anything, is getting a will done, a Living Will and perhaps a trust. These documents however do not address family crisis or other catastrophic events that may cause strain on seniors or the family system.

An expert in elder care is familiar with a host of these issues and can suggest positive ways to address them. There are multiple types of elder care professional to choose from. It is important to understand the differences between them in order to determine which one is best suited for your particular situation.

Elder Law Attorney – Elder law attorneys address the business end of legal issues especially as they pertain to the drafting of necessary legal documents such as powers of attorney, health care directives and even preparing estate plans.

Geriatric Care Manager – Geriatric Care Managers (GCM) provide comprehensive health assessments of a senior usually to determine what kind of care is needed and how that care is to be effectuated. They usually develop the care plans, implement the plan (may even be part of the care plan) and often stay involved as a point of contact as ongoing needs change.

Elder Mediators – The Elder Mediator assists with conflict that involves elders, their family members, physicians, landlords, caregivers, or others in their lives. The role of the Elder Mediator is facilitative and he/she is helping people involved in a difficult senior matter come together and sort out the tough issues they face.

Both the GCM and Elder Law Attorneys are advocates for a particular person; the senior. They may be called in by someone other than the senior, but their role is primarily one of advocacy for the senior.

The Elder Mediator, on the other hand, does not have a person as a client. Elder Mediators advocate for the conflict resolution process. They also have substantive knowledge of elder care issues, the aging process and resources that may be useful to the situation. This impartiality is key to effectively work out the intensely emotional issues/conflicts that arise in elder situations. Thus, when engaged, the Elder mediator becomes an advocate for a neutral process by encouraging the very act of self-determination for everyone involved. Where a senior lacks the ability to speak on his/her own behalf then the mediator assures that there is a proper advocate for the senior present during discussions. Good Elder Mediators also possess substantive knowledge of elder care issues, the aging process and resources available which may be useful to the situation.

The focus of the Elder Mediator is to help all parties in the elder-related conflict by assisting them through difficult conversations, creating options, and exploring resources. This is done in an effort to aid in bringing resolution to the current conflict and laying the groundwork for better problem-solving and decision-making in the future. Family roles may shift, many interests must be balanced and the decisions to be made are life-changing. Family dynamics left unattended for many years resurface suddenly causing disharmony. The Elder Mediator is particularly skilled at breaking down poor communication and assisting in bringing about better communication patterns. Furthermore, the Elder Mediator is experienced at dealing with group dynamics and family conflict and knows how to properly facilitate productive discussions.

Often mediations are completed in one marathon session or can be scheduled for two-three sessions. The mediation process ends when agreement is reached. What is more common is that once families have participated in the mediation process which is really a learning conversation, they leave with better relationships and better communication skills which helps them in working out future issues.

When families present to elder law attorneys or to GCMs with overt conflicts, that would be the best time to refer them to elder mediators to work through the conflict before providing legal services or developing a care plan. Otherwise legal papers or other planning may have to be redone due to unresolved conflict. Or worse yet, litigation ensue and resources are depleted fighting over issues that are better resolved at the discussion table. Furthermore, a failure to refer out the conflict to elder mediators can lead to significant delay in getting the necessary legal and care needs attended because of continuing discord. Trying to use the Elder Law Attorneys or the GCM to settle the conflict is difficult because of the lack of impartiality and can produce further entrenched conflict because family or others involved in the conflict may feel bullied or simply untrusting of someone who has a specific agenda.

Elder Law Attorneys, GCMs and Elder Mediators are 3 distinct professions who provide unique services to seniors. It is important to know and understand the differences between these services and who is the best point of contact for your particular situation. Making an informed decision about which professional to choose depends on your specific needs and situation. Having a good understanding of each and knowing when to call them, especially in crisis situations can help families best handle the difficulties of the aging process.

Elder Law Attorneys Geriatric Case Managers Elder Mediators
Advocate for the Client (Senior) Advocate for the Client (Senior) Neutral- Advocates for the Conflict Resolution Process
Handles Legal Business Assesses Senior’s Abilities and Coordinates a Care Plan Facilitates Difficult Discussions for groups or families in order to work together in coming up with a resolution
Long Term Relationship with Client Long Term Relationship with Client Short Term Process- Mediation ends when agreement is reached