Love, Care and the Inevitable Arguments

Elder care decisions send some families in search of professional guidance.

ByABC News
June 27, 2007, 5:42 PM

June 28, 2007 — -- When siblings have to make decisions about care for their aging parents, the situation can spark such great disputes within the family that some are turning to a solution common in divorces and business disputes.

Elder mediation is a relatively new option for families navigating the complex decisions and emotions surrounding elder care.

An outside mediator provided a good option for Lewis Remake, who is trying to help his hospitalized mother as she is refusing tests that he and his sisters agree she needs.

Remake said the tension began to affect his own marriage. "When I deal with a lot of situations with my mom I'm a lot more short-tempered at home," he said.

So Remake and his two sisters decided to arrange meetings with a Baltimore-based mediator who can help families turn a stressful conversation into a productive one as they make tough decisions about their parents.

"They need mediators for sorting through complex elder-care issues like where the money will come from and which child takes legal control, and how to make decisions that respect a parent's dignity all overlaid by sometimes intense family dynamics and feelings," said mediator Louise Senft.

In the Remake family, the fault line is between generations, which is not a new dynamic for this family.

"No question," Remake said. "My sisters and I have had, historically, a pretty difficult relationship with my mom."

In their meeting with the mediator, that history became the starting point for a discussion. "Well, one of the ways that works in mediation is that all of these stresses are identified, they're not hidden under the rug," Senft explained.

And Remake said the process is helping him in all areas of his life.

"For me to be a better parent, to be a better spouse, to be a better worker, in everything else in life, I have to be a good son," he said.

Not that hard choices don't remain, but at least hard feelings may be less likely to get in the way when elders need our care.