What to Do When a Caregiver Crosses the Line

Beware of the hired aide who is exploiting an older adult

(This article appeared previously on SeniorityMatters.com.)

Editor’s note: Nancy Stein of Seniority Matters regularly answers questions from her website’s readers on family caregiving. The following is one example:

Q. My mother is 88 and has had the same aide for the past three years. She is very fond of her. The other day I noticed that she had written a check to the caregiver for $1,500. When I asked her about it, my mother replied that she [the caregiver] and her husband needed some money for a house repair. When I asked her if she’d given her money previously, my mother couldn’t remember. The caregiver takes really good care of my mother, but for some reason this really bothers me and leaves me with a bad feeling. Should I just forget about it?  Marjorie F., Miami, Fla.

A. You should not forget about this. I can understand your mixed emotions and indecisiveness as to how to handle your situation. However, this is a very clear-cut issue, with no middle ground; I believe this is a reason for an immediate termination. No one, especially a hired caregiver who is there to care for and protect your parent, should ask their older adult client for [extra] money or anything else. Moreover, if they are offered money or valuable items, such as jewelry, they should politely decline the gift.

As was explained in a New York Times blog, For the Old, Less Sense Of Whom To Trust, older adults often lose their “shrewdness” — that is, the ability to sense when they are  being taken advantage of. What you’ve described is an abuse of the close relationship that often develops between an elderly person and their hired caregiver.

I asked South Florida-based nurse and geriatric care manager Candice Brown for her thoughts on this question. She said: “Seniors often spend more time together with their caregivers than with family members. The caregiver may over time explain his/her situation and the need for money. They may even threaten to leave because another job will pay them more. Mom develops a trust, doesn’t want the aide to leave, and wants to help her caregiver. Please do not blame Mom; a charismatic caregiver can fool anyone, even Mom’s children.”

If hiring an aide through an agency, you should make certain that they address this issue with their employees. If hiring a home companion directly, it’s important to make this “rule” clear upon hiring. Ask for three work references and call them in addition to interviewing the aide. It would be wise to ask a former employer if the home aide ever asked for or received gifts from their client. Added Brown: “Although it may seem like you’re hiring a friendly and warm person, remember, this is a business transaction and should be treated as such.”

Finally, this should also be a wake-up call to you to monitor your mother’s finances more closely to protect her from potential fraud. You can do this by asking her to include you on her bank account, which will enable to you to monitor it online.


By Nancy Stein
Nancy Strickman Stein, Ph.D., is the founder of SeniorityMatters.com, a caregiver advisory and referral service for south Florida seniors and their families. You can reach her at Nancy@senioritymatters.com.@senioritymatter
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