The holidays can be a particularly stressful time for families dealing with a loved one’s chronic illness. Issues can arise during this time that call for professional attention that is not medically related.
In a perfect world, we have fostered enough of a relationship with our patients’ primary caregivers that they feel comfortable looking to us for guidance about other aspects of their loved one’s (or their own) care plan. As the medical community continues to synergize our clinical and integrative practices, it behooves us to be aware of alternative avenues along the continuum of senior care.
One such important resource can be the Elder Care Mediator, who serves as the liaison between the elder, their family and the resources for comprehensive care in the elder’s community. These are trained and certified professional who have a specialized knowledge base and practice skills to deal with life- changing issues faced by seniors and their families.
Reasons for engaging an elder care mediator are numerous and sometimes daunting. These professionals are available today to assist families in navigating questions of finance; joint responsibility and decision making; medical care; end-of-life decisions; guardianship; property maintenance; and personal privileges, such issues around driving and residential changes, among many others.
Elder care mediators should not be seen as an ally in a battle, but as advocates for the self determination of the elder. They should also be seen as process experts or professionals. They need to be skilled in the world of elder abuse signs and symptoms while also having a working knowledge of behavioral health. As a licensed professional they do have a higher ethical and regulatory body to answer to.
A capable elder care mediator will be able to effectively evaluate the presenting situation and then facilitate a positive solution for the elder and their loved ones, that fosters dignity, respect and self determination. An elder care mediator should be well versed in community options and offer transformative directions. While doing this a person can expect their mediator to offer family system education that is clear, understandable and clinically appropriate.
When mental healthcare is still seen with shame and a good deal of stigma, especially with seniors, the pressures of being able to mitigate communication problems within families will require skilled mediators. We need to always make sure that there is a comfort level between any mediator identified and the protagonists in the senior care situation. No matter how well-trained a professional is, this “safety factor” is a must in assuring the best possible outcomes for our patients.
The elder care mediator is a new concept born from medical, psychological and social necessity. Current statistics show that there are now 65 million family caregivers in the US alone. It has been reported that as many as 1 in 2 people in the United States have a chronic illness. Considering the recessionary backdrop and overwhelming number of boomers becoming seniors, there is no doubt that this will be a huge growth industry in the years to come. It is impossible for it not to be.
There are two sources I would recommend for finding a qualified elder care mediator. Because the field is new and not fully regulated as yet, I would go to www.Eldercaremediators.com , who offer trainings, certifications and vital information. Of course, I am partial to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), who has local chapters across the country – www.socialworkers.org.
Having a resource of a few well qualified elder care mediators to suggest to our patients can gift them with the peace of mind that they surely deserve.
By Jamie Huysman, PsyD, LCSW
Dr. James Huysman, PsyD, LCSW aka Dr. Jamie is a fierce advocate of patient-centered healthcare and a work force in touch with its own wellness. He is a popular conference speaker and media guest on the topics of caregiver burnout, compassion fatigue and addictions and healthcare reform. Dr. Jamie blogs forPsychology Today and sat on the NASW committee to establish national protocols for certification and standardization of caregiving practices. Dr. Huysman writes for FloridaMD and Today’s Caregiver magazines. He co-founded the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation and created the signature programming for its psychosocial drop-in model, Leeza’s Place, opening 8 national locations, each with a different funding partner, in a four year period. He co-wrote the acclaimed caregiving book, Take Your Oxygen First: Protecting Your Health and Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss, with Gibbons and Dr. Rosemary Laird. He also contributed to the Healing Project’s offerings, Voices of Caregiving and Voices of Alcoholism. He currently works as Vice President of Provider Relations and Government Affairs for WellMed Medical Management in Florida, a UnitedHealthcare company.