Dealing with changing needs of an aged parent
Later life meditors can help with the thorny issue of parental care
Later Life Mediation members, from left, Brian O’Neill, Claire Kearney, Joe McDermott, Helen Harnett and Frances Stephenson outside their office on Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin. Photograph:Cyril Byrne
Working out the best living arrangements for an ageing parent can be one of the trickiest and most emotionally draining experiences for middle-aged adults.
A lot of families find it difficult to have conversations about the changing needs of their ageing mother or father. And sometimes, one family member dominates discussions while others have difficulty having their voices heard. In some situations, the ageing parent feels he/she doesn’t have any say in the matter.
It is in situations like these that elder mediators can help, and a group of five counsellors/therapists based in Dublin say there is more and more demand for the service they offer.
Elder mediation or later life mediation can help families at various stages of decision-making around the changing needs of an ageing parent.
By being an independent voice, they can help families cope with a diagnosis of dementia and deal with financial issues, caring rotas or home-help arrangements while always keeping the ageing parent as their central focus.
“We deal with all types of situations from siblings falling out over how they feel their parent should be looked after to an ageing parent cut off from the rest of the family who want to make contact again,” explains Frances Stephenson from Later Life Mediation.
Adult children returning to the family home, individuals in their 70s looking after someone in their 90s or an older person in a nursing home not having their care needs met are other issues that arise.
The mediators first meet with each family member individually and confidentially, and then arrange a family meeting to discuss the issues.
“We help people through their options and have the older person present if possible in his/her own home or in a neutral place. We don’t share the information we get from the individual meetings but we are informed by it,” says Stephenson.
“We talk about such things as anticipatory grief which is the emotion you feel when you can see a decline in your parent. That can have a huge impact on people.
“Sometimes, one sibling feels he/she knows the best way to treat the ageing parent and others can be pushed out or can be further away geographically,” says Claire Kearney from Later Life Mediation.
“We try to find a role for each person so that they feel involved and we have Skyped family members who are abroad so that they can partake in the family meetings. That has worked really well,” she adds.
Coping with different family members’ interpretations regarding how well/unwell their parent is can be very difficult.
“Sometimes, an ageing parent can have a burst of adrenaline when one of their adult children comes home from abroad and another sibling can seem to be exaggerating their symptoms,” says Stephenson.
Other times, issues arise between the siblings.
“If we pick up on tension, we offer these individuals opportunities to deal with these issues with another counsellor. It’s important that the focus remains on the older person,” says Kearney.