Positive Conflict Resolution for Families with Alzheimer's By Jesse Sostrin, PhD

We've all been there – the point where communication breaks down, walls come up, and we spend more time blaming others for our problems than focusing on potential solutions. It's called conflict, and it can happen anytime people have differing needs. Naturally, conflict is an everyday part of our lives.

However, when families are dealing with the challenges of declining health from diseases such as Alzheimer’s, conflict can be a devastating experience. In a country where someone new will develop Alzheimer’s every 70 seconds, there are countless adult children and their aging parents who must confront a variety of challenging decisions that are made more difficult by the effects of the disease.

To support families in San Luis Obispo County, the non-profit conflict resolution center Creative Mediation provides Elder Mediation as a forum to constructively address many of the concerns that arise during these transitions to family care, assisted living, long-term care and hospice. Brooke’s story illustrates the way Creative Mediation works with families in these circumstances:

Brooke's mother, Charlene, had recently been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease and she and her other adult siblings wanted to have a family meeting with their mom while she still had her faculties. Emotions ran high because there was a history of difficult relationships among the siblings and the declining health of their mother made things more volatile.
With so much history and emotion, the family knew they needed the help of a neutral mediator if the meeting was going to be productive. As Brooke said, the family didn’t want “therapy;” they wanted a professional meeting with everyone in the same room, at the same time, hearing the same thing.
With six adult siblings and an elderly mom, the mediator kept the conversation focused and allowed everyone to participate equally. As issues surfaced, it was clear that there were many differing opinions about what was best for mom. The breakthrough came when the children stepped aside and listened to their mother discuss her own desires.
This elder mediation gave all of the siblings and their mother a respectful, dignified forum to begin the family’s transition to the last years of Charlene’s life.

Unfortunately, many situations like Brooke’s don’t end on such a positive note. Unresolved conflict can be an expensive and damaging force that destroys even the strongest relationships. If you or other family members are stuck in a cycle of conflict, there is hope to improve relationships and get more of what you want and need. If you would like to take several positive, proactive steps on your own, consider the following roadmap to a successful resolution:

  • First, agree to have a conversation to explore the issues, assumptions, feelings and potential next steps.
  • Next, take time to clarify the situation to get all perspectives squarely out in the open. Try to focus attention on identifying the substantial issues and then break those down into separate pieces (remember, be hard on the problem and easy on the people).
  • For each issue, generate options that can potentially satisfy the underlying needs of all people.
  • As agreements begin to form, commit to a resolution and discuss how the solution can be implemented successfully.


In situations where things feel too intense or overwhelming to address on your own, consider Coming to the Table with Creative Mediation. Creative mediation offers a range of mediation services that include 1) conflict coaching with family members; 2) family meeting design and facilitation; and 3) family workshops that teach communication and conflict resolution skills.

The Elder Mediation program can help families to: discuss living arrangements and make decisions about the future care and protection of sick or aging parents, discuss and agree to the fair use of family resources, address current caregiver, health, safety and resident concerns, create visitation schedules, clarify expectations and decision making processes, and resolve family disputes as they emerge before they erode trust and unity within the family.

Some of the many benefits include:

  • Increased family cohesion and improved relationships;
  • Improved communication and collaborative decision-making among siblings and family members;
  • More effective use of family time and resources;
  • Avoidance of expensive and sometimes damaging legal proceedings; and
  • A model for more effective communication and problem-solving if future issues arise.

For more information about how Creative Mediation can help your family, contact us at:

Phone: 805-549-0442 * Fax: 805-549-0654
Email: info@creativemediation.net  * Web: creativemediation.net

Creative Mediation is a program of Wilshire Community Services

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