Dealing With Assisted Living Resident’s Disruptive Family Member

Family members of assisted living residents understandably are concerned about the wellbeing of their loved ones in this type of long-term care environment. Unfortunately, there are instances in which family members of assisted living residents go beyond what is reasonable and appropriate conduct. They engage in activity that is inappropriate, even disruptive of the operation of assisted living communities. There are some specific strategies that can be employed to deal with the challenges of an assisted living community’s challenging family members:

  • Keep other residents safe
  • Attempt to lower emotions
  • Move conversation away from other residents and staff
  • Establish boundaries
  • Listen to disruptive family members if possible
  • Attempt to build rapport
  • Keep your voice low
  • Encourage discussing matter at a later time
  • What to do with repeat disrupters

Keep Other Residents Safe

Before diving more deeply into some of the tactics that can be effective in dealing with difficult family members of an assisted living resident, a vital point must be made: First and foremost you must be sure that your other residents are kept safe when an outsider is disrupting an assisted living community. This very well may mean that you will need to have the disruptive family member removed from the premises. The police may need to be called to accomplish this objective as safely and quickly as possible.

Attempt to Lower Emotions

The next step in dealing with an assisted living resident’s disruptive parent is to attempt to lower emotions – that individual’s emotion and your own. You really need to make sure your own emotions are in check as you work to deal with a disruptive family member in an assisted living community. Psychology Today recommends five steps you need to take to address your own emotions in this type of situation:

  • Do not react immediately (with the caveat that you do need to take all necessary steps to protect the integrity of the community and wellbeing of residents and staff)
  • Keep breathing (experts believe that purposeful breathing helps you stay connected to yourself and your body)
  • Keep your voice low (which is discussed in a moment)
  • Take a break (with the caveat mentioned a moment ago in regard to not reacting immediately)
  • Focus on the matter at hand (don’t drag other issues into the situation)

The remaining elements of this article really are directed in part at addressing the emotional state of the disruptive family member. We won’t belabor this article by rehashing this elements again in this section. 

Move Conversation Away From Other Residents and Staff

You need to be firm but respectful in moving the conversation (the disruption) out of a common area into a private space. This certainly is for the benefit of residents and staff. With that said, it is also for the benefit of the disruptive individual as well as yourself.

Establish Boundaries

If possible, you need to establish boundaries for how the discussion with the resident’s family member will proceed going forward. Appropriate boundaries should include:

  • Keep exchange civil
  • No yelling
  • No insults
  • No threats
  • Set specific time period for the discussion
  • Set parameters of discussion (issue or issues to be discussed)

Ideally you are able to get the family member to agree to boundaries you believe are important. Even more promising is to obtain reasonable suggestions from the family member regarding boundary matters. 

Listen to Disruptive Family Member if Possible

As much as reasonably possible, attempt to listen to what the disruptive family member is saying – or intending to say. You may need to cut through the anger to really try and understand what the family member is attempting to convey to you.

You do need to bear in mind that a family member may be attempting to convey some sort of unreasonable request (or demand). Early on in the exchange with the family member is likely not the point in time to flat out declare a family member’s request of demand unreasonable or even impossible. That can come at a later juncture in time.

Attempt to Build Rapport

Realistically, this may be an impossible endeavor. However, if possible, you should attempt to build at least some level or rapport with the family member. For example, if you can find something that you both can agree upon, taking note of that fact can open a door (at least a bit) to the development of at least some level of rapport.

Keep Your Voice Low

As was mentioned previously in this article, keep your voice volume low when involved in an exchange with a family member who has engaged in disruptive conduct in an assisted living facility. Simply, don’t scream and shout. If you feel that you may be moving towards this type of expression, take a break and walk away from the situation for at least a few minutes as a means of attempting to collect yourself. 

Encourage Discussing Matter at an Another Time

In a considerable number of cases involving a family member who is being disruptive, a wise course of action is to encourage taking up the matter at another time. Hopefully, emotions all around will have cooled (at least to some degree) if a breather is taken.

Set a specific time to reengage with the family member. Similarly, set an exact location where the continuation of the exchange will occur. Do not schedule this return to the exchange with the disruptive parent too far down the road. Consider having this session within 24 to 48 hours.

What to Do With Repeat Disrupters

Unfortunately, in long-term care settings, time and time again there are family members who are repeat offenders when it comes to engaging in disruptive behavior. In some cases, these family members may be sincere in believing this is what they need to do to protect the interests of their loved one living in assisted living. In other instances, these individuals very well may have a personality or emotional issue that causes them to present themselves in an inappropriate manner. 

No matter what drives a family member to behave inappropriately, repeat performances of this nature simply cannot be tolerated in an assisted living community. This type of conduct is unfair to staff, other residents, and even the assisted living resident related to the poorly behaving, disruptive individual. 

If this type of disruptive situation occurs more than once, issue a stern warning that if a disruption occurs again, the family member will face a try temporary suspension of visitation privileges at the community. That individual certainly can continue to see their loved one, but time spent together will need to be outside of the facility. 

If a suspension of this nature becomes necessary, the first time such a step is taken should be temporary. The level of response to disruptive behavior should be gradual. The only exception would be if a family members engages in particularly dangerous disruptive conduct at an assisted living community.