Driving is one off the more touchy issues to discuss with an older person. AARP in cooperation with The Hartford and MIT AgeLab have developed an interactional online tutorial called “We Need to Talk”. It consists of four modules, the first of which addresses how to have the conversation. It identifies the emotions many elders hold about driving and the concerns its loss would raise. It also discusses the emotions of the child or concerned adult having these conversations with a parent or an older loved one. The notion of active listening is explained as an important skill in these discussions.

This tutorial advances ideas that are important when discussing most sensitive issues with an elder. Empathy, reflective listening, and self-awareness are key elements to successful dialogues. It also advises advance planning, so alternatives are readily at hand. If you can relate to the difficulty of such encounters, this tutorial may be helpful. Here is the link. https://elearning.aarp.org/pages/course/CourseMaterial.aspx?courseid=371

An aspect that isn’t fully developed in the tutorial that we have encountered is the inner battle within an elder noticing a decline in abilities. My mother was an excellent example. She acknowledged sometimes feeling disoriented while driving but could only see relinquishing it as the end of her. Discussions were landmines for anger and resentment which could be directed at others. A neutral third party may be helpful in situations such as these. In our mediations, we encourage participants to talk to us directly. This promotes more open dialogue and avoids evoking personal arguments that often distract from the intended subject.

"Mismatched Goals"

We all disagree at times, and we all do our best at those times to resolve those disagreements. But disagreements between parents and children can be the most emotional and the most difficult to resolve on our own .Family disagreements can be based on patterns of behavior and relationships that have been in place for decades, or even longer. They can also be rooted in the inherent hierarchies of family structure, such as parent and child, or elder and younger siblings. But a recent New York Times article surveys research that also looks at these disagreements as a matter of mismatched goals.

A child’s goal in suggesting certain actions for their parent may be to help their parent. On the other hand, the parent, after many years of helping their child, may feel their own goals of independence and self-determination threatened by these same suggestions, no matter how “reasonable” they might sound coming from a doctor a spiritual advisor or a close friend.

These mismatched goals — when parents want continued independence and children want oversight — can be especially difficult to resolve unless the family can, first, acknowledge and address the separate goals, and, second, focus on trying to to harmonize them. Without this focus, continued, or even escalated, conflict can be the result.

The piece noted that Dr. Allison Heid, a gerontologist consulting at Penn State and Rowan University, is “a fan of incremental progress, a negotiation that leads to a more reciprocal exchange.”

Mediation can help when you encounter family mismatched goals. Mediation, in both theory and practice, promotes reciprocal exchange in negotiation. And because mediation focuses on the mutual agreement of all participants, incremental progress is an essential component of the process. While a judge might demand a final agreement, mediation allows for developing decisions.

From The New York Times:
Think Your Aging Parents Are Stubborn? Blame ‘Mismatched Goals


Mediation Training with Chip Rose

I attended a full-day mediation training earlier this month with family mediator Chip Rose. Chip has 35 years experience as a mediator and nearly that much as a trainer. Chip came in from Santa Cruz, California, to speak to a group of about 40 North Carolina mediators in Greensboro.

Chip is noted, in part, for his “preparatory” approach to mediation, in which he works “(t)o create a safe environment in which each party can get his/her needs met without interference from the other;

  • To assist the parties to gather all necessary information and to analyze that information for choices and options;

  • To explore all options to determine the consequences of each of the potential choices; and

  • To assist the parties in developing settlement proposals and negotiating their perspectives to an agreement.” (from chiprosemediation.com.)

The part of Chip’s approach that I find particularly valuable in elder mediation is his focused interview process in which he meets with all participants – individually or collectively, as appropriate – to learn about their goals and, especially, to help them understand the mediation process so they are prepared to control that process of discussion, its cost, and any agreements they reach.

Participant control is an essential element of the mediation process – perhaps its most valuable element but, also, perhaps, its least understood. The better-known legal model of dealing with disagreement involves allowing others – attorneys, judges, juries – to determine alternatives and outcomes. The goals, direction, and outcome of mediation all rest in the hands of the participants and not with any third parties, so participant understanding of the differences between the legal process and the mediation process is essential to its effectiveness.

The intake and interview processes that we use at Elder Matters echo many of the techniques that Chip has developed and teaches. They are designed to help discover the concerns of everyone involved, and to help focus everyone on those concerns rather than familial or personality differences. They are also designed to help everyone understand that the direction, discussion and decision in mediation rests with the participants and not with anyone else.

Mediation works best when participants come prepared to work together to make their own decisions about the outcomes. This can seem a daunting task, especially when people are frequently conditioned to allow an attorney or a judge to determine what happens. But, with preparation and guidance, participants in mediation can reach decisions that are more personal, and more satisfying and lasting, than those made through the court system.

Three Tips for a Better End-of-Life Approach from Maria Lynch

A few weeks back, I listened in as Maria Lynch, a Raleigh attorney, spoke to a local group regarding practical estate planning.

I have to give it up to her. She was whip-smart, knew the law, answered questions with wit and personal wisdom. She gave an informative, interesting, likely much-needed talk for free as part of a lecture series hosted by the Cameron Park/ Cameron Village/ Area’s  Aging-in-Place focus group.

While giving people advice on how to be more practical, proactive, and informed with one’s estate planning, there were three notable tips about end-of-life planning that stood out for me.

Get Comfortable with the Phrase "When I Die"

We’ve all heard an elder or a parent say “if I pass away…” as if there will be a choice about our end of life scenario. Speaking with demure gentility and so on…

There certainly will be a timing factor for each person’s end of life, but as Ms. Lynch put it: Get used to the sound of the words “when I die,” as those are much more realistic. And, possibly, the ability to say these words could even assist in a person’s level of preparedness when it comes to their own estate planning.

Clean Out the Attic

Ms. Lynch encouraged us to clear out our attics before our children and descendants have to do it for us. Her advice is to get rid of the junk and clutter if you are able prior to them inheriting the chaos and at a highly emotional time, not knowing what to keep and what to discard.

The agony of sorting through a home full of trinkets and treasures that belonged to one of our deceased love ones is just too much work at times, when added to the daily grind of life as it is.

I know from experience my Mom and her siblings had a very tough time with this stage, and our Grandmother had a small, simple one story home. Imagine the work that goes into a large family home that has accumulated stuff for several decades. As Ms. Lynch talked of her own experiences, she recounted becoming the proud owner of eight (8) broken space heaters when her father died. Why? Just doesn’t make sense.

So, get rid of your junk! Clean out your homes, downsize, have it hauled off or given away to charity. Try to be considerate of those who will be cleaning up after you’ve gone to the other side. If it is best to hire someone to help you to begin the task, then do that. Maybe a grandchild or neighborhood kid will help sort through your treasures for a small fee, and they can keep a few items for their own collection.

Plan For Your Passing

Plan and pay for your funeral services and burial or end of life ceremony if you are able to do so. Often times, our loved ones are left to decide these things riddled with guilt and grief and they can make poor decisions, possibly with no guidance.

Pick out your site, pick out your coffin, decide to be dressed in silk with your favorite fresh-cut flowers in place and music playing; or, cremated and thrown into the Mississippi River at Oxford after a large family dinner.

The point is, these are your wishes, so make sure they are known and attended to ahead of time. Whatever you wish, at least make it known to a spouse and one child, sibling, heir, or descendant. And, if you have the means; go ahead and pay for it. No one’s children are prepared for the costs of a funeral and burial and services. As Ms. Lynch said, these costs can be upwards of $20,000 if not taken care of ahead of time. Again, loved ones are not in a good place when you have just left them, and their decisions may be not in alignment with your own as far as values go.

I didn’t get into the ‘nuts and bolts’ of Ms. Lynch’s talk about estates, wills, trusts, probate, and non-probate amounts, and Power of Attorney documents here, but those were all discussed in some detail. If these subjects are not yet familiar to you, and you’d like to speak with Maria Lynch or one of her colleagues, now is the time to start planning! Their practice is located in Raleigh, and you can visit their website to learn more.