Eldercare mediation

Post image for Standoff on the Debt Ceiling:  Is There a Mediator in the House, Please?

 

As Congress misses its deadline once again for an agreement to raise the debt ceiling, shattering the confidence of even the most cynical of economic analysts, we have to wonder why the White House has not considered using a different strategy to settle this impasse: Mediation.  The recent debate in Washington about the debt ceiling and the budget have offered a window into the importance of mediation, says a recent article in the Pittsbugh BusinessTimes. The article makes some good points about how mediation could help move the process along quickly toward resolution.  As anyone who’s been involved in an intense family, business or neighborhood conflict knows, mediators can be highly successful in getting the parties to focus on the heart of the problem, and helping them brainstorm creatively about solutions in order to achieve a ‘win-win’ agreement.  Let’s take a quick look at how a mediator could be helpful in the White House as the clock is ticking ever closer to the August 2nd budget deadline.

Mediation Resolves Disputes Quickly

There’s no argument that, when it comes to the current budget crisis and the bill under consideration to raise the debt ceiling, time is of the essence.  And mediation is always the speediest way to help parties cut through the posturing, the politics and saber-rattling, to reach an agreement that will stick. Waiting to go to court often takes months. Mediation, on the other hand is an immediate solution that allows the parties to sit down quickly and start to find solutions before the problem becomes larger. The debt ceiling is a pressing problem, and one that needs to be resolved quickly, something mediation could handily do.

Mediation Helps Parties Problem-Solve More Creatively

The debt ceiling has proven to be a persistent point of contention and the parties continue to circle around the same topics and offer up the same solutions. In disputes like this, a mediator can often step in and help the parties think about the problems in new ways. Mediators don’t offer solutions, but they do guide the parties to look at the problem in a new way, thereby helping them develop alternative solutions. Having a non-invested, neutral third party in the room can change the tone of the conversation and make it more productive, thoughtful, and creative.

Mediation Keeps the Debate Focused

It is also important to remember that a mediator does, in fact, mediate.  That is, a mediator’s job is to keep the conversation on point and on target. In family mediation, elder care mediation, and business mediation, parties have a tendency to wander and to pull in topics, situations, and associated problems that are not helpful in resolving the issue on the table. A mediator guides the talks in a focused way, moving the parties from point to point, helping them move towards solutions and also helping them see the interrelation between the problems at hand so they can be solved in a cohesive manner.

Mediation is Private and Positive

The mediation room is a positive space, where parties are not allowed to speak harshly and posturing is discouraged. Mediators work to keep parties focused on constructive conflict resolution rather than rehashing the past. In addition, mediation is a more private process, where parties are urged to keep the issues in the room – unlike the talks in Washington, which take place very much in the public eye (or at least are reported to the public after the fact). The privacy of the process can be helpful in resolving sensitive and complex conflicts where multiple agendas are at stake.  By allowing parties to lay their cards on the table honestly and openly, they can ‘cut to the chase’ more quickly if they are not having to worry about the  public perception of each position and argument presented.

Mediation offers a multitude of benefits for settling conflicts – from marital squabbles, inter-family conflicts, business problems, to cross-border disputes.  Maybe it’s time that the lawmakers in Washington try a new approach to ending the deadlock on the debt ceiling debate and bring a neutral into the room to help them move swiftly toward resolution.

 

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Post image for Keeping Aging Couples Together: mediating your family’s eldercare options

As the elderly population grows, one segment of that group is bigger than ever before: married seniors. 45% of men over the age of 85 still live at home with their spouse. Another 10% of senior men are married, but are living apart from their spouse (who is most likely in a nursing home). As senior couples and their concerned family members confront caregiving decisions, the couples’ desire to continue to live together is a huge challenge. There are a number of living arrangements to consider and holding a family meeting to consider them may be the best way to sort out the pros and cons.

Most senior couples prefer to continue to live together at home. But when one spouse is in need of extra help, it places the healthier spouse in a care-giving role. Remaining at home may be the goal for many, many couples, but doing so without the right support can mean injury for the healthier spouse. When families are faced with the important question of how elderly loved ones can enjoy their time together without compromising the health and safety of each partner, it makes sense to hold a family meeting – sometimes with the aid of a mediator – to weigh the options. Here are a few to consider:

Aging in place at home may seem like the best option for elderly couples. They have the chance to stay together in a familiar environment and if they can manage to hire an in-home care professional, the couple will get the care and support they need. On the other hand, families must keep in mind that constant contact with caregivers can lead the healthier spouse to feel intruded upon, and round the clock in-home care can be pricey.

Moving together to an assisted living facility is a also a popular option, but rarely do both spouses stay at the same activity and health level. One spouse is likely to fall into a caregiving role in this situation as well, when the facility does not have the services the weakening spouse needs. Moving together to a facility that provides the higher level of care the less healthy spouse requires ensures that health needs are met, but can result in the healthier spouse feeling trapped in a place that doesn’t offer the opportunities he or she needs to remain active, and can result in the healthy spouse deteriorating.

Living separately at different facilities (assisted living and a nursing home) or one spouse remaining at home while the other moves into residential care are options, but is usually distressing for both spouses and can negatively impact their health.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) have been stepping up to the plate lately to fill the void. These residential centers offer a wide array of services and care which can be customized to each spouse’s needs. This may be the perfect solution for a couple that can’t remain at home together, however it can be cost-prohibitive. Most CCRCs require a buy-in fee and then monthly payments (which can be comparable to live-at-home costs). And the sliding levels of care may only be offered in specific buildings on the grounds, meaning one spouse might need to move to receive a higher level of care.

Clearly, there are a number of options available to aging couples – some of which have not even been touched upon here. There are no perfect solutions, but understanding a couple’s need to remain together is the first step in the process of making long-term care decisions. Holding a family meeting, either with or without the help of a mediator, is a great way to put everyone’s needs and concerns on the table so they can devise the best possible strategy.

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Post image for Mythbusting Mediation: The Top 10 Common Misperceptions About Mediation

 

Although, more and more, mediation is becoming the preferred way for people to settle their disputes, there are still a lot of misperceptions about it.  Here are the top 10 fears and common concerns that I hear regularly from people that prevent them from taking the wise approach to conflict resolution.

1. Mediation only works if you already agree about most things. The whole point of mediation is to solve problems you don’t agree about. The process helps you find compromises and common ground when before you didn’t believe you had any. Just think of mediation as an alternative to going to court, except that the process is private, less expensive, faster, and you maintain more control over the outcome.  You don’t need to agree on the issues.  You just need to agree to mediate.  From there, each of you will work with your mediator to negotiate and problem-solve in order to develop solutions to your unique set of problems.

2. The mediator makes all the decisions. The mediator is actually there as a neutral third party to move the process along. He or she doesn’t decide anything at all and has no power to do so. Only the people sitting in mediation can make decisions about their situation.  The mediator may help by guiding you in your thinking, offering suggestions, and may point out options to assist you in brain-storming solutions.  But, ultimately, you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to developing solutions that work best for each of you.

3. Mediation is too time-consuming. Mediation almost always takes far less time than a contested court proceeding, when you consider all the hours your attorney must put in to prepare for court. Also, because mediators charge less than trial attorneys, you save money.

4. Mediation is touchy-feely. Mediation is not therapy. To resolve certain difficult issues it can be helpful to talk about the emotions or reasons behind them, but the goal in mediation is not to talk through your problems as you might in therapy. Instead, the goal is to tackle problems until you find a solution that works for everyone.  From there, your mediator will help you draft an agreement that will be enforceable in court.

5. Mediation is not for people with a lot of assets or complicated businesses. Mediation works in almost every situation. As long as parties are willing to sit down together to meet and discuss their conflict, mediation is possible.  Mediators have been used to resolve conflicts in business partnership cases, employment and contract disputes, separation and divorce cases, family conflicts, eldercare matters, landlord-tenant and real estate cases, and a host of other types of cases.  The value or type of assets is unimportant. The same process is used to resolve them. Mediators are trained to work with any type of asset.

6. People who mediate don’t use lawyers. Most mediators strongly suggest that both parties hire an attorney for consultation during the process. The mediator’s role is not to provide legal advice (although legal information is given). Each person may wish to consult with an attorney to discuss strategy, rights, and what the potential outcome would be in court.

7. If there’s a power imbalance in the relationship to begin with, the weaker party won’t be protected in mediation. This concern comes up frequently and is expressed most commonly by women going through a divorce, or employees in conflict with their employers.  The belief is that, without an aggressive attorney by their sides, they won’t feel they can have a voice in mediation.  In fact, mediators are trained to insure that everyone is given an equal opportunity to speak freely and openly during mediation and that everyone is heard.  Mediators often act as ‘interpreters’ for parties to be sure that their messages are being conveyed clearly to the other side. In this way, the process can move forward and everyone’s interests are represented in the final agreement.

8. A mediated agreement is not legally enforceable. The mediation process is not only accepted by the courts, it is now highly favored and encouraged by the court system and any agreement reached by the parties is considered binding and enforceable.  When the parties create an agreement with the help of their mediator, it will be drafted in a legally acceptable form, signed and notarized.  In the case of a divorce, for example, the divorce Stipulation of Settlement Agreement, will be submitted to the court with the divorce petition and attached to the court order.  Once this happens, the agreement reached by the parties will be binding and enforceable.

9. Women are always at a disadvantage in mediation, particularly if the mediator is male. Mediation is blind to gender. The process is not skewed in any way to give either spouse better chances. A good mediator will ensure that both parties have a voice and an opportunity to speak and negotiate. The mediator’s gender is irrelevant because the mediator acts completely neutrally.

10. Mediation doesn’t work unless you have good communication with the other person. Most people are in conflict with one another because they don’t have good communication, so this is definitely not a requirement for mediation. It’s even possible to mediate without ever sitting in the same room or speaking directly to each other.  At Mediationline, for example, we have successfully mediated cases where the parties have not been in the same location and have chosen to conduct their mediation over email and through separate exchanges with a mediator. No matter what the style of communication, mediators are skilled at drawing out shy and withdrawn parties, diffusing tense situations, and bringing balance and equity between the parties so that everyone has a voice in the process.


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Post image for Getting the Most Out of Your Mediation: Do the Homework!

When you sign up for mediation, you might not expect to be given homework.  But homework is an essential part of most effective divorce, custody, or senior care mediations.

What Kind of Homework Should You Expect

Mediators often ask clients to take the time between sessions to think about the issues still to be decided and to generate possible solutions. Your mediator will usually prompt you to try to think about the topic in a way you never have before. For example, if you’re mediating a custody dispute your mediator might suggest you pretend to be your child and come up with solutions he or she might think of. Your mediator may also ask you to gather information from different sources, such as appraisals from real estate brokers or account information from investment advisors. In a senior care mediation, your mediator might suggest you make some phone calls and talk with some visiting nurses, elder care managers, or assisted living facilities. You may also be asked to do some organizational work—gathering records and documents and organizing them or creating a summary that can then be used in the next mediation session.

Why You Should Do Your Homework

If your mediator asks you to think about some issues, generate possible solutions, or gather records between mediation sessions it’s usually so that when you meet again everyone will have made some progress. Homework saves you time (and money) in mediation. Going home and spending some time thinking about the issues and possible solutions lets your mind slowly work through things in a way you cannot in a one-hour session. In the days or weeks between your sessions, you have time to let your active and subconscious mind process everything that was discussed in session and internalize it. This moves you closer to a solution. Gathering information or documents allows you to bring something new to the next session so there are more items to discuss.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Homework

If you approach your homework as something you just need to check off your list, you aren’t getting the complete benefit of it. This isn’t like math homework in high school where you just needed to scribble some answers down on paper to show the teacher you did something. Homework is intended to benefit you. You aren’t doing it for your mediator. You’re doing it for yourself. You committed to mediation and you want it to help you reach an equitable resolution. The only way to do that is to devote time and energy to the process—which means taking the homework seriously.  As you gather your information, think about how it can benefit the settlement process.  Begin to think about creative ways for how you might be able to give and take as a way to reach a fair agreement.

Mediation homework is an integral part of the process and giving it the time and attention it needs will help move your mediation case along more quickly and get you to a mutually agreeable solution as fast as possible.

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Post image for 10 Ways to Tell if You’re Heading for Caregiver Burnout. Take the Quiz!

According to the National Family Caregivers Association, in any given year, more than 45 million Americans are caring for an aging parent, close family member or friend.  While more often than not, women tend to shoulder more of this burden, increasingly men are just as likely to face the challenge.

For those of you who have wrestled with caregiving responsibilities, you know that it can often place a tremendous strain on one’s health, personal finances, job responsibilities, and relationships.  Day after day, you’re making tremendous personal sacrifices caring for loved ones, but who’s taking care of you?

Ask yourself these 10 questions to see whether you’re heading for Caregiver Burnout.

1. Are you constantly feeling tired and exhausted?  Don’t have the same energy for performing routine activities that you used to?

2. Do you find that you sleep poorly at night and either have trouble falling asleep, or sleep restlessly throughout the night?

3. Are you constantly wondering if you are making right decisions for your loved one? Do you question your decisions because of  the stress you may be under in dealing with other family member’s conflicting ideas of how to care for your loved one?

4. Do you find yourself becoming increasingly impatient and irritable with others for no good reason?

5. Do you find yourself being resentful toward your loved one or at other family members for the burden that’s being placed on you?

6. Do you feel increasingly joyless, depressed, or apathetic and find that you derive less and less pleasure in either taking care of your loved one, or in other activities that used to give you pleasure?

7. Have you found yourself wanting to withdraw socially?

8. Has your appetite changed noticeably – either you are eating considerably more due to stress, or you have lost interest in food?

9. Have you developed an increased dependence on substances such as cigarettes, alcohol or drugs?  Or do you find yourself escaping into other “unhealthy” activities such as overshopping, excessive use of the internet and other escapist activities?

10. Do you feel a sense of guilt that you aren’t doing quite enough for your loved one?

Of course, even non-caregivers can experience some of these symptoms now and then in response to stress at some points in their lives.  But if you answered “yes” to more than 3 of these questions, and experience these symptoms on a pretty consistent basis, then you could be heading down the path to Caregiver Burn-out.

What Now?

Here’s one of my favorite resources that I want to share.  The Family Caregiver Alliance, National Center on Caregiving produces a wealth of resources – manuals, provider lists, research studies, you name it – for care givers.  I particularly like their “Long Distance Caregiver Handbook”, which stresses that caregivers who may be facing burn-out reach out and get help, ask for professional support, and call a family meeting to delegate some of the caregiving repsonsibilities.  

It’s thorough and concise and it offers some wonderful tips, links and strategies for caregivers.  I love the section that advises caregivers to hold a family meeting! That’s great advice.  For many people, though, the idea of sitting down with other family members and sorting through complex emotions and devising an appropriate caregiving strategy can be daunting.  However, with the assistance of a third party neutral, such as an eldercare mediator, to facilitate the discussion that conversation can become much more manageable. Food for thought.

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