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Senior Citizen's Guide to Pittsburgh

What is Elder Mediation?
by Anjali Soi, Sun Conflict Solutions, Pittsburgh, PA

Mediation is a process that allows everyone involved in a conflict situation of a legal or non-legal nature to resolve issues through communication with the assistance of a mediator. Rather than having, for example, lawyers struggle with each other about issues affecting their clients for a lengthy period of time, which ends up costing clients more money and time, a mediator can step in and resolve those issues by bringing the clients ‘to the table’ and enabling constructive conversations between them. In mediation, the parties have the opportunity to voice their desires, grievances, and ideas in a safe and neutral atmosphere. They can express their ideas for solutions and evolve towards an agreement on the issues that incorporate some of those ideas. Thus, the parties in mediation essentially control the process while the mediator behaves as a guide. The mediator is trained and knowledgeable in the art of negotiation and helps everyone get past areas in which they feel stuck or in crisis.

Elder mediation can solve a variety of matters such as health and medical care, financial and legal matters, living arrangements, respite care and support for caregivers, and personal and household care and maintenance. Numerous questions in these areas can be answered such as:

Communication breakdowns and other problems between family members may also be addressed such as how to deal with sibling rivalries, separation or divorce, new spouses or companions, and deaths or other relationship changes. The needs of other family members such as dependent children and grandparents caring for grandchildren may be explored and can include reimbursement for their services or visitation.

A mediator focuses on uncovering the potential for empowerment and recognition during the mediation process and builds moments of increased awareness, which helps everyone feel calm and capable of making decisions and shifting perspectives. As a result, everyone is more open to each other’s viewpoints and more willing to acknowledge each other’s feelings and experiences. Methods and techniques that will help prevent future conflicts can also be proposed and examined. Attorneys, advocates, medical professionals, social workers, residence staff, relatives, spiritual care givers and friends can all be directly involved and experience opportunities for increased connection and empathy. Elders also experience the critical opportunity to exercise their personal autonomy if desired by speaking about those decisions that will affect them in ways they feel are important.

The process of aging advances changes on many levels for an elder including the physical, cognitive, psychological, behavioral and social. Elders encounter a wide range of adjustments that are difficult around slower mental processing, short-term memory loss, and organizational and reasoning difficulties. The loss of social connections they had throughout life increases the sense of isolation and loneliness, adding to the depression and disorientation they are already feeling. The conflicts associated with changes from aging are numerous and can create fear and anxiety, communication breakdowns, extreme sadness, frustration, guilt and increased concerns for safety. Moreover, generational differences and differing values between elders and caregivers add to the confusion often resulting in heated arguments, cold wars, competition for control, vulnerability to manipulation and even the potential for abuse and neglect.

The entire mediation process is confidential and consensual. No one is compelled to speak and persons can speak on behalf of another. The mediator screens for any existence of abuse including physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, neglect, abandonment, financial or material exploitation, self-neglect and capacity and then any necessary adjustments and accommodations are made to ensure everyone can thoroughly participate. From the beginning, the mediator sets up an interactive framework in which each person can express his or her views in a self-determined and informed manner. The agreement the parties arrive at at the end is drafted by the mediator, which then becomes a legally enforceable document governing all legal issues that are relevant and discussed. The goal of mediation is to create a positive and sometimes transformational change that helps everyone feel stronger and valued. In effect, it is a healthy alternative and a more productive route for dealing with prolonged disagreements.

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