Minister to launch mediation service for families of elderly people with dementia

Mon, Jun 8, 2009, 01:00

A NEW mediation service dealing with problems of families and carers with family members suffering from dementia and similar diseases will be launched this week by Áine Brady, Minister of State for Older People.

The service is a pilot project involving collaboration between the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and Northside Community Law Foundation. Its launch coincides with an international symposium on elderly mediation which starts today in the Stillorgan Park Hotel, Dublin.

The mediation service will help people with Alzheimer’s or dementia and their carers and families to make difficult decisions regarding the care of the sufferer, and deal with any family disputes. It will involve specially trained volunteer mediators working with people with dementia and their families, with community and where necessary with service providers in the Dublin region. The launch will take place at 11.15am on Tuesday during the symposium. Speakers and delegates from the US, Canada, Europe, the UK and Ireland will highlight the mediation model as good practice.

“Changes in people’s needs and roles as they age can impose new stresses on elders and their loved ones. Faced with these challenges, new ways of coping with evolving relationships and changing realities are vital,” according to Maurice O’Connell, chief executive of the Alzheimer society.

“Elder mediation provides an opportunity for the older person and all concerned members of the family to participate in creating a thoughtful plan for the future,” he said.

More than 50,000 carers are looking after someone with symptoms of dementia and the number is set to rise sharply, he said. There are 44,000 people in Ireland living with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia, and trends suggest that by 2036 some 104,000 people will have the condition.

Mr O’Connell added that up to one in three calls to the Alzheimer National Helpline during the first quarter of 2009 were from families dealing with increased stress, family conflict and complex decision-making situations.

Issues of concern included carer stress and burnout; legal issues regarding guardianship and inheritance; financial issues; complex decisions regarding residential care and medical options; driving, and relationship issues.

Elder mediation offers a new, more inclusive model to address issues faced by families caring for a loved one with dementia and other age-related scenarios. This is a co-operative process in which a trained elder mediator facilitates discussions that assist families to address the changes and deal with the stress involved.

Over the past 20 years, elder mediation has developed in Canada and the US as a speciality in the field, and it is now recognised internationally as an important step in the continuum of care.

In elder mediation, the focus is on addressing concerns and issues while maintaining and strengthening the myriad of relationships critical to the well-being of the older person. Typically, it involves many players, predominantly family members, who are concerned or affected by unexpected or unresolved events, or a multitude of other issues.

Among those addressing the symposium will be Judy McCann-Beranger of the Canada-based Elder Mediation International Network; Jean Georges of Alzheimer Europe; Dr Mary Cosgrave, consultant in elder psychiatry; Maurice O’Connell, chief executive of the Alzheimer Society of Ireland; Colin Daly of Northside Community Law Centre; Karen Erwin, president of the Mediators’ Institute of Ireland; Patricia Rickard-Clarke of the Law Reform Commission, and Niall Byrne, deputy director of operations with the HIQA’s social services inspectorate.