When an aged parent needs long-term care or nears the end of life, adult siblings often argue about how to handle a loved one's care. Now, a new profession is emerging to help tamp down the tempers: the elder care mediator.
Increasingly, these peacemakers are called in to referee complex, emotionally charged disputes. Where should the parent live? Is it time to take away the car keys? How much does each family member contribute if mom is short of funds? Who gets to make decisions about medical and end-of-life care? When successful, the mediator's work can help avoid a divisive, costly court fight and, just as important, keep the family intact.
"Forty percent of caretakers have a major conflict with siblings," says Janet Mitchell, a lawyer and psychologist who co-founded the National Eldercare Mediator Network. It had 30 members when it formed in 2004; now it has 110.
"We are not advisers," says Blair Trippe, a partner with mediator firm Elder Decisions. "We investigate fears, needs, concepts of fairness and figure out where there are commonalities. We help develop solutions and marshal together a team of professionals if necessary. Sometimes, a family only needs to talk."
The services typically cost $100 to $500 an hour, though low-cost, sliding scales or free services are available through community mediation programs.
Keep these facts in mind if you're considering hiring an elder care mediator.
1. The profession is loosely regulated. It's likely that at some point there will be common regulations and professional standards for elder care mediators. But for now there aren't. Some mediators have advanced degrees in law, social work, psychology and counseling. Others have long experience in one or more of these fields.
"Essentially, anyone can label themselves as an elder care mediator and sell their services," says Robyn Golden, director of adult programs at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
People who join the National Eldercare Mediator Network are required to have completed a 40-hour mediation course and to have mediated at least five disputes.