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For elders in transition, they are there to listen

Monique Bleriot, Ann Sullivan

Martha had been living with her elderly mother for several years, taking care of her as she grew ill and making sure bills were paid. She ran errands, did the cooking and cleaning, and tended to her mother when she needed medication or help getting around. Eventually, it all became too difficult for Martha, who decided her mother should move into assisted living. 

Her sister Lucy, who lived in another state, was against the idea, and the sisters were unable to come up with a solution. Martha was worn out, but Lucy couldn't bear the idea of their mother no longer living at home and moving into an institution.

As people live longer and the baby boomers enter their own senior years, more and more families are finding it difficult to negotiate the challenges raised by having older parents who are in decline. Often, families put off making the difficult decisions about an elder until there is a crisis or until the parent dies. The crises could be short term, such as transportation, paying bills, or caregiver burnout, or long term such as appropriate housing, medical care and end of life decisions.

“It's very sad when it comes to the end of a parent's life, and family members are estranged due to hard feelings about unaddressed issues or disputes about what the parent wanted done,” says mediator Ann Sullivan, at right in photo. “Such families can end up fighting with each other at a time when they need to be grieving the loss they’re experiencing.” 

Sullivan believes that addressing these issues as early as possible through mediation is a way to give each family member a chance to be heard and to be understood. This can be the basis for the family to make sound decisions about transition issues, to support positive family interaction and to avoid costly court room battles in the future. Addressing issues before the crisis erupts can also allow the family members to have both the time and the emotional energy to grieve their loss when the crisis happens, according to Monique Bleriot, at left  in photo.

Sponsored content

Sullivan, an attorney, and Bleriot, a nurse with a background in geriatrics and mental health, are the team making up Mediation for Elder Transitions (MET), at 22 Mill St., Suite 305, in Arlington. Their aim is to help families find solutions for the needs of an aging family member. They started MET a year ago, having met at the Community Dispute Settlement Center in Cambridge, where they were volunteer mediators. They realized they would make a good team: Sullivan, has had her own family mediation practice for over ten years, and Bleriot is a nurse with  a master's degree in conflict resolution. 

Sullivan and Bleriot note that a key rule for mediators is to remain neutral, and they do not take sides in family’s dispute about what should or should not be done. The mediators’ role is to facilitate a discussion among family members and help the generate options for taking action. Sullivan and Bleriot first meet with each family member to get their history and perspective about the situation. They ask each person what their questions and concerns are about the mediation process and find out how to help the individual feel comfortable and emotionally safe during the mediation sessions. After meeting with each family member, the mediators get the group together, and begin by collectively making an agreement about how the group session will be conducted to ensure that each person feels heard and respected. The final step is to begin the negotiations among family members about the agreed upon issues.

Mediation for Elder Transitions had a table at the 50+ Senior Expo held May 6 at St. Camillus. Read more >>

Sometimes the family needs more information about legal, financial, or medical issues. In that case, MET will provide resource information, and if the family requests, a financial adviser, elder care lawyer or a care provider may speak with the family. In addition, says Bleriot, they can provide resources and information a family might not be aware of, such as the existence of adult day-care programs or how to find a home health aide or homemaker. But mediation provides more than practical information. While it's not counseling, people trained in mediation learn to develop listening skills. “Listening is one of the most important things a mediator can do,” says Sullivan, “and recognizing that a participant is experiencing a difficult emotion can often help that person and the group as a whole move forward.”

Sullivan and Bleriot were able to let Martha and Lucy know about an adult day-care program, but Martha still didn't feel that would be enough. With the help of the mediators, Lucy and Martha began to talk more about their childhood and their feelings. Lucy acknowledged she felt guilty about moving away right after college and had missed out on a lot of family events. Martha, meanwhile, said she had had a close relationship with her parents as she was nearby yet at the same time, felt Lucy was the favored child. As they continued to talk, the sisters realized they had each given something up and now wanted to be united in helping their mother. They agreed to at least begin looking at assisted living facilities and agreed they would look together.

Mediation is based on the notion that people have common interests as opposed to litigation where people have different positions, Sullivan says. “You try and look at what the common interests are and then generate options to meet those interests.”

Mediation for Elder Transitions (website)
22 Mill St., Suite 305
Arlington, MA 02476
Office: 781-645-9851
Office Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

This news feature by Marjorie Howard, which is sponsored by Mediation for Elder Transitions and YourArlington, was published Thursday, April 26, 2018.  Find out about sponsored content here >>



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