British Columbia

Mediation helps families solve conflict with elderly parents

Mediation can help siblings and relatives make sound decisions about how to care for an elderly family member on issues ranging from power of attorney, to healthcare, to finances, says one lawyer.

Seniors will make up 25% of B.C.'s population by 2041 according to B.C. Statistics

Elderly members of the family ultimately have the right to make their own decisions, but mediation can help everyone come to an agreement about the best course of action, says mediator Joan Braun. (Getty Images/Hero Images)

Mediation can help siblings and relatives make sound decisions about how to care for an elderly family member because end-of-life care is a topic that many families do not discuss, says one expert.

Taking care of aging loved ones is a stressful and emotional task that an increasing number of people in B.C. will have to face in the coming years. People over the age of 65 will make up 25 per cent of the population by 2041, according to projections by B.C. Statistics.

Adult children often mean well, but conflict can arise when parents are hesitant to talk about sensitive issues. That's where mediation can help, says Gloria Gutman, a professor at the SFU gerontology research centre.

"Mediation could help in clarifying for the children, what are the preferences of the parents," said Glutman. "Because often parents and children don't discuss these kinds of care issues or end-of-life issues," 

Hiring a mediator to resolve disagreements about aging parents is already a common practice in the U.S., says Joan Braun, a lawyer and mediator who works with seniors.

"I think it will grow because it's a good way to resolve these kind of disputes that can be very stressful and help a family get back to working together well."

Emotion and anxiety

A mediator can help family members communicate their concerns when disagreements become emotional.

"Parents typically don't like their children fighting about these issues, so there can be a lot of emotion there," she said.

Mediators can also help even when siblings agree on a care plan for their elderly parent, because suggesting the change to a senior can create anxiety.

"Sometimes that may have to do with how the adult child is putting that to the parent — there's a lot of anxiety etcetera there," said Braun.

Finding a mediator

Every family has a different dynamic but families with elderly members should find a mediator who has experience dealing with seniors' issues, said Braun.

People can find a list of mediators in the province at Mediate B.C.

But it's important to keep in mind that seniors ultimately have the right to make the decisions about their own health and finances, she said.

"That's the right thing to do, but it's also true legally, unless somebody has a cognitive difficulty to the degree that they can no longer make legal decisions," she said.

"It's their right to make decision about healthcare and finances as they affect them."

But mediation can't solve all problems, says Gutman.

Adult children should ask for an official assessment if they suspect their elderly parent can no longer make legal decisions, she said. 

"Mediation may help, but I'd say get a geriatric assessment if the children think the parent is incompetent because that's a serious thing to label someone as." 

To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: Mediation can calm family feuds about aging parents