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What is the Future of Elder Mediation in Australia?

I recently had the privilege of listening to Dr Anita Frayman speak about the Future of Elder Mediation.

Her discussion of decision-making, conflict and problem solving around the care of elder family members resonated for me both professionally and personally.

Care of my elderly dad has been very topical in my extended family over the past year. As Dad struggled with illness, operations, medical interventions, falls, maintaining independence and increasing frailty – notwithstanding strong soundness of mind – so did his family struggle. Finally Dad resolved it for us by deciding he needed more help than he could manage at home – at a time of his own choosing.

Anita’s description of families struggling to cope, amidst the increasing frailties of an elder, particularly emphasized the elder person’s own agency in decisions.

In describing her own role, talking to and preparing all the parties, she stated that she didn’t actually “do much mediation”. This may be true in the classic sense of how so many mediators define mediation (indeed how the Mediator Standards Board’s Guidelines set out what is expected in defining what is mediation). However, Anita’s description of assisting to resolve conflict and particular disputes contain many of the elements that go to make up mediation.

To me it ‘sounded like’ mediation, of sorts, was occurring.

Elder mediation is still a relatively “young“ area of practice in Australia.

Perhaps these situations call for new strategies. Perhaps it’s important to approach this new area with a more flexible definition of what we call mediation? Especially if it works!

Particularly because elder mediation often involves multiple parties, each with very different roles and interests, I believe it may call for the kind of multi-layered strategy as Anita described.

After all, being open to a variety of fresh approaches may well be in all our interests. Even mediators eventually grow older.

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