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Stuck in the Middle, Part Two: Additional Considerations

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Yesterday we published Part One of this two-part article titled Stuck in the Middle – Thinking about the Silverado Sugarland, Texas Lawsuit.  From time to time almost every single senior living community is forced to deal with family conflict. Only occasionally does it get so bad that someone files suit as is the case at Silverado Sugarland Texas. There are two additional important considerations:

  1. Dementia makes these conflicts more complex and delicate.
  2. Be very careful about picking sides.

Dementia Residents

Dementia residents add a great deal of complexity to the problem of resident rights and resident safety.

Joel Goldman, a prominent senior living attorney recently told me a story about a male resident with dementia who had a female friend that wanted to come visit. The family and the senior community had been able to document that this “friend” was physically and emotionally abusive to the resident and yet the resident wanted to continue the visits.

The female friend filed a complaint and licensing came out to investigate. The investigator asked just one question:  “Do you want this person to continue to visit?”  He answered “Yes” and the community was cited.

What the investigator never bothered to figure out was that this resident pretty much said yes to everything, meaning that if the investigator had asked if he wanted the senior community to ban his friend from coming to visit, he would have likely answered yes to that as well.

Most often what happens with dementia residents is that the family member(s) who are far away and have limited contact with the resident do not have a realistic picture of the level of confusion or disconnect with the real world the resident is experiencing. It is possible for residents to even “fake” normalcy for short periods of time. Even when a resident has dementia it does not mean they lose all of their rights to make decisions about how they live their lives  . . .  about who visits and who does not . . . about what care is delivered and how it is delivered.

The best advice is lots of communication with everyone and, as importantly, encouraging family members to have open honest conversations with each other.

Don’t Take Sides

When a resident moves into a community it is natural that one family member has most of the interaction with the senior living community. Particularly if that relationship is comfortable to the staff, there is an assumption that when other family members show up on the scene with guns blazing they must be the bad guy.

That assumption may not be correct. It could be that the one you like is the one who is raiding mom or dad’s bank account.

Most of the time there is no clear good guy/bad guy. It is simply a gut-wrenching time for family members as they watch their loved one decline. There needs to be lots of empathy and lots of discussion. Even if there is one apparent righteous party or side, you may not have all the facts.

Finally, many times when there is extreme family conflict it is the culmination of a lifetime of family conflict and dysfunction boiling over. Picking a side will likely cause you extreme grief and possible legal action.

How have you dealt with these issues?

Steve Moran

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