All throughout life, we encounter difficult people—difficult classmates, difficult co-workers, difficult clients or customers, and even difficult family members. So, it should come as no surprise that there might also be difficult people at your parent’s senior living community as well.
Conflicts are bound to arise when different personality types live in close proximity. How do you resolve these conflicts—whether it’s for control over the TV remote or arguing over a game of canasta?
Many Causes of Conflict
“There are many different situations that could potentially cause conflict,” says Alixandra Foisy, LCSW, RYT, a private therapist and consultant working in issues related to aging based in Blacksburg, Va. “In the case of an older adult, there could be cognitive or physical issues that are exacerbating the conflict. The person could be struggling with dementia. Or perhaps the individual is irritable because of chronic pain. In each of these cases, it’s important to have compassion for what the person is going through.”
Sometimes conflict arises because a resident is new to assisted living and isn’t aware of the rules or the norms of being part of a community environment. “In these cases, the community can help new people get acclimated to their new living situation, perhaps by assigning them a ‘buddy’ who can show them the ropes,” Foisy suggests.
Conflict resolution often can be achieved by one resident talking to another, but it needs to be done in a calm and respectful manner. It might be as simple as bringing the behavior to the attention of the resident. “If someone is always coming into the TV room and changing the channel, you could speak up and say, ‘Excuse me, but some of us were interested in watching that,’” Foisy advises. “If the behavior persists, you could knock on the person’s door and talk to the person in private.”
Present the problem in a non-accusatory or belligerent tone and also provide a solution. For instance, if the individual wants to watch baseball while several residents are interested in watching HGTV, provide information about where other sports fans are gathering to tune into the nightly game.
“Give the person the benefit of the doubt,” Foisy suggests. “Especially in a situation where the individual has moved there from their own home, they may not even realize they were stepping on other people’s toes.”
If a situation arises that cannot be resolved in a calm one-on-one discussion, it is important that residents have another form of recourse to address the ongoing conflict. In such instances, it may be necessary to bring the conflict to the attention of the community’s administrative staff.
“Most assisted living communities have a grievance process,” Foisy says. “When people are feeling beleaguered or that they are not being treated fairly, having clear policies and procedures can be very helpful. Sometimes the community even has people on staff who specialize in mediation.”
Bringing sources of conflict to the attention of the administrative staff is often the most effective way to resolve it. “The staff otherwise may have no idea it was happening,” Foisy says.
The success of the conflict resolution often depends upon the personalities of the individuals involved. “People who are more introverted are at a loss in these situations,” Foisy says. “A lot of people just live with the conflict. For that reason, it’s important for the assisted living staff to keep their hand on the pulse of what is happening.”
In some cases, introverted residents may complain to a family member, which is how the conflict can be brought to the attention of staff. Sometimes residents are reluctant for their family members to do this, feeling that they will be branded as complainers. “They don’t want it to seem like they’re making a big deal over nothing,” Foisy points out.
However, the most proactive communities will encourage feedback from residents and their families. “They might set aside time one or two evenings a week, giving families the opportunity to talk to them about grievances and identify some of the policies that may be causing conflict,” Foisy says. “Providing this process will give staff an opportunity to resolve the conflict and also go a long way in building rapport with the families.”
CHIME IN: Has your parent experienced conflict in assisted living? How have you sought to resolve it?