Court orders man to leave home, stop 'tormenting' 90-year-old mother with dementia; cites impact of caregiver stress
- A 53-year-old verbally abused his elderly mother and made her adhere to an overly strict exercise regime
- This affected her emotional and psychological well-being, a judge found
- The judge imposed four court orders including a restraining order for the woman's safety
- The judge also highlighted the issue of caregiver stress
- She said it was important for caregivers to take feedback from medical professionals and the community
SINGAPORE — While caring for his dementia-ridden mother, a man repeatedly used vulgarities on the 90-year-old woman, shouted threats at her and forced her to undergo an overly strict and taxing exercise regime.
He persisted with the verbal abuse even after a judge granted interim orders for him to stop this and for an "adult protector" under the Vulnerable Adults Act to supervise the mother.
This chain of events has now led a family court judge to impose an order for the woman to be supervised by an adult protector for six months and an order restraining the man from abusing his mother.
In a ruling that acknowledged the stress that caregiving can cause, the judge also issued an order excluding the man from his mother's home, and another order for him to receive counselling.
District Judge Cheryl Koh said that this was necessary for the older woman’s safety and protection. The grounds of decision by the judge dated June 28 was made available on Wednesday (July 6).
District Judge Koh also noted that many people will become caregivers of loved ones who are seniors as Singapore’s population ages, and not everyone will know how best to care for them.
She emphasised that caregivers must be willing to take feedback, such as if they are neglecting or even abusing their loved ones, and work together with support from the community and medical professionals.
All parties involved in this case were not named.
The older woman has three grown children, with her caregiver being her youngest child in his early 50s. He holds certification as a fitness trainer and is now unemployed and single, District Judge Koh noted.
The woman’s other adult children, who both work as medical professionals, were involved in a family feud with their brother. He lived with their mother in her landed home together with a domestic worker.
Due to her dementia along with adjustment disorder with depression, she was classified as a vulnerable adult under the Vulnerable Adults Act 2018.
She has only a two-minute short-term memory of recent events, was unable to recount instances of abuse by her son and could not protect herself against such abuse.
TORMENTED AND INTIMIDATED MOTHER
District Judge Koh agreed with the Adult Protective Service, which falls under the Ministry of Social and Family Development, that the woman’s son verbally abused her to such an extent that it affected her emotional and psychological well-being.
The Adult Protective Service was set up in 2015 and it works to safeguard the safety and well-being of vulnerable adults experiencing abuse, neglect or self-neglect, among other matters.
District Judge Koh relied on eight video and audio recordings, which were up to an hour in length and submitted by the family’s domestic worker. They were taken from October 2019 to January this year.
In the video footage, the woman looked lost and could only give feeble replies such as “I don’t remember”, District Judge Koh noted.
“It is notable that (the man) himself admits during the proceedings that the recordings show himself to be ‘on the brink of insanity’ like a ‘madman’,” the judge added.
Transcripts of the recordings showed him shouting at his mother to “go to IMH (Institute of Mental Health)” and “stay there”.
He also called her a “bloody fool” and repeatedly hurled vulgar phrases at her such as: “Do you know that there’s a ****ing reason why it’s like that and not like that?”
In an audio recording taken in December 2021, he told her: “You don’t stoop, ah, all this is caused by you! From beginning to end is caused by you… you want to think that you are a bloody angel when you’re not. You are a devil and you think that you’re an angel.”
District Judge Koh found that he had tormented and intimidated his mother “by incessantly and unilaterally berating her”.
He also controlled her by dictating what time she should get up and sleep, asking why she was sitting down to read newspapers, and shouting at her to get up from the floor.
During the trial, he had claimed that she was faking her confusion, telling lies and provoking him, but he accepted that he was guilty of verbally abusing her.
“From beginning to end is caused by you… you want to think that you are a bloody angel when you’re not. You are a devil and you think that you’re an angel.A man who verbally abused his 90-year-old mother”
In terms of any physical abuse, the judge acknowledged that the man had no deliberate intention of doing so but had nonetheless caused his mother's physical pain without proper regard for her spinal and pain issues.
This was through his exercise regime for her, which included morning walks for 15 to 20 circuits at a nearby park, aerobic exercise such as Swiss ball workouts, foam rolling, and evening walks clocking up to 3km.
The woman’s physiotherapists testified that her injuries were consistent with over-exercising.
The family’s domestic worker provided his exercise plan where he wrote instructions such as: “Whenever I have included a staggered programme like this, with hard and easy recovery sessions, you always gravitate towards the easy recovery ones and avoid the actual exercises that train. This is absolutely useless. This is why you now have a fat tummy.”
This was one instance that showed she was struggling to keep up with the exercises, but he perceived it as her being lazy or not exercising enough, District Judge Koh said.
The judge then gave several reasons for imposing the four orders on the man, one being that he did not have insight into his exercise regime causing physical pain.
The Adult Protective Service intervened in 2020 but he resumed the exercises the following year.
He also disregarded medical and community advice that he deemed to be his sisters’ scheme to get him out of the way and get their hands on their mother’s estate.
After an interim restraining order was served on him, he continued to verbally abuse his mother as well, which meant a final restraining order was necessary to stop him from inflicting further physical pain, District Judge Koh added.
She also noted that the man’s sisters also appeared fearful of challenging him. Since he left the home in February this year, they have been able to regularly visit their mother now.
As for the counselling order, the judge said that it appeared he was "likely suffering from caregiver stress" due to his mother’s deteriorating dementia. The situation was also worsened by his family feud.
Time apart from his mother and her residence would hopefully help him to re-focus and care for himself before thinking of caring for her again, the judge added.
In concluding her judgement, she said that some caregivers believe they know their loved ones best, and it may not be easy to “hear and gain insight” from outsiders that they are not doing well enough.
District Judge Koh added: “However, as long as a caregiver has an attitude of willingness and receptiveness to receive feedback about their provision of care, and work together with the support of the community and medical professionals to implement any improvements or changes for the benefit of their loved one, with the overriding best interests of their loved one at heart, their caregiving journey could be well supported and empowered, and the twilight years of their loved ones could be spent as peacefully as they could be.”
She expressed her hope that this would be possible for the man and his mother after the "cooling off" period she had ordered.