Senior homes ready to respond when feuds arise

Occasional conflict is inevitable among seniors living in close quarters, say those who manage homes that cater to the elderly and infirm.

As a greying population increases demand for such facilities, more seniors run the risk of butting heads. But homes say they have measures to minimise friction and prevent disputes from escalating.

Extreme examples of conflict among the elderly have made headlines lately.

Earlier this month, an 89-year-old was sentenced to 18 months' jail for scalding and slashing his roommate at a sheltered home in Tampines. At another home, a 91-year-old with dementia caused the death of a fellow resident last August during a quarrel.

But standard operating procedures (SOPs) help to keep cases like these the exception. These include having individual care plans - taking into account the resident's financial, physical, mental and emotional well-being - and meetings to clear the air.

Mr Mahathir Rahim, community engagement executive at Apex Harmony Lodge, a home for dementia patients, said: "Support and interventions are provided based on the deep knowledge of each resident."

Group facilities for seniors include four categories of nursing homes depending on their healthcare needs, as well as welfare homes for the destitute, sheltered homes for those with nowhere else to go, and retirement villages for the more affluent.

At the end of last year, there were 1,263 seniors in welfare homes, 666 sheltered home residents and 12,830 nursing home beds.

At Catholic Welfare Services' (CWS) St Vincent Home for seniors who are receiving public assistance, care plans help social workers conduct regular counselling sessions tailored to the seniors' needs, said CWS chairman Thomas Tan.

At AWWA Senior Community Home, which serves a similar group, case managers meet residents individually before facilitating group sessions to tackle a feud. "Town hall" meetings - held when tensions flare up - also let residents know there is a conflict management SOP, said health and senior care director Keith Lee.

Ms Julie Anne Spencer, from Temasek Polytechnic's gerontological management studies programme, said: "It's better to phrase rules or guidelines in a positive way, rather than use 'do not'."

Another option is to separate the disputing parties. The Salvation Army's Peacehaven Nursing Home divides its 401 beds into 14 separate resident living areas (RLAs). Ms Trina Tan, Peacehaven's social work manager, said: "If (two) residents in the same RLA cannot get along, or if there are safety issues... we will move either of them to another suitable RLA."

CWS' Mr Tan said it is important to look at underlying issues: "Sometimes, social manipulation, exclusion and disruptive behaviours have more to do with acquiring power... at a point in life when older people can feel powerless."

But if an altercation turns physical, the police will be called, said Mr Lee.

Another option is to discharge the unruly senior.

Mr Shem Teo, an allied health lecturer at Nanyang Polytechnic, said communal living gives seniors a taste of independent living without sacrificing the benefits of social interaction.

Some lucky seniors even manage to find love.

"We have two couples who met and married at the home," said Mr Lee.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2017, with the headline 'Senior homes ready to respond when feuds arise'. Print Edition | Subscribe