Between advancements in medicine, a new awareness for eating healthy, and the drive to remain active, statistics show that people are now living longer than ever before. There are many positive and negative effects, however, that come along with living longer.
As adult children and members of the Sandwich Generation, we often hear people describe a family situation where an elderly parent eventually shows signs of becoming frail and forgetful and more challenged by everyday tasks. Aging parents forget to take their evening medicine, do not open mail and pay bills, leave dishes and pots piled up without being cleaned, forget to take out the garbage, and sometimes even skip a meal.
In these family situations, the parent lives alone, or sometimes both parents live alone. Some parents may have a caregiver who visits a few hours a week, helping with shopping, meals and doctor visits, but some parents may not have any additional care. And the geographical distance between parents and family members may be great. Although people often recognize the vulnerability of their parents, they seem to be afraid to move forward — to discuss a plan of action for the future well-being of their parents.
But as a wise person once told us, our parents will never be as young or healthy as they are today. Therefore, a delay in addressing these issues in a productive way can lead to a devastating crisis.
A Lack of Communication
So why are adult children afraid to talk to one another about the future care of their aging parents? Why are adult children afraid to discuss with their parents, or step-parents, the possibility of moving closer to a sibling, the need for a caregiver, whether the parents should remain at home or move to a facility, or when to give up driving?
In some families, open, difficult conversations are rare and may have always been avoided. They have no experience with how to have real conversations about important issues. In other families, the relationship between the adult children is tense, lacking in trust. And some family members are just in denial and don’t want to deal with the medical and caregiving issues of their parents, which can feel so monumental at times.
As elder/family mediators, we repeatedly see family members in pain as they struggle to navigate the aging process of their parents. The family members get stuck for whatever reason, and are unable to talk about their parent’s caregiving, housing, and medical and legal matters in order to make time-sensitive decisions. As a result, the family goes on as if everything is fine and everyone is able to manage until a crisis erupts.
Creating Safe Spaces for Discussions
Elder/family mediation provides an opportunity for family members to sit down, face to face, and openly talk about their concerns, fears and anger with neutral mediators. The mediators have no prior or ongoing relationship with any family member, creating a safe space for everyone in the family.
Whereas caseworkers and geriatric care managers have a client (the senior) who they are obligated to advocate for, mediators have no specific client or ongoing connection to the family members that could compromise their neutrality. The mediators guide the family during this conversation so shared concerns about the care of their parents, such as their safety and well-being, are identified and discussed thoroughly. Once everyone truly understands each family member’s concerns, the family can then move on and make mutually agreeable plans for their parents.
While mediation is not therapy and will not address the psychology behind the family dynamics, it does bring family members together, perhaps for the first time, to address a specific problem that is keeping the family from providing the proper care their aging parents need and helps them start a conversation so they can move forward. Elder/family mediation provides an easy and alternative approach to achieve a quick resolution to an ongoing family problem.
As our parents age, it is time for the family to unite to create a working plan that considers the needs and concerns of the entire family. Family members need to have these difficult conversations in a real way to ensure that their aging parents are safe and that family relationships survive. Elder/family mediation is a successful tool that gives families a way to effectively manage the aging process that confronts us all.
Get the RightConversations Guide
RightConversations is a practical approach for effective communication between you and your loved ones. The tools included in our guides offer the opportunity to build a strong foundation to reduce caregiver distress while helping loved ones remain in the comfort of their homes.
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This is a one-time guest post that Right at Home has provided as a courtesy to our readers. Gail Goodman and Ruth Weinreb are family mediators and co-founders of Talking Alternatives, a mediation advocacy organization helping families resolve their problems by preserving their relationships through facilitated conversation.