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Caregivers Who Take Advantage of the Elderly—and You

Who asks to borrow money just as your spouse is about to die?

Imagine hiring a caregiver who asks to borrow money from you -- just as your spouse is about to die.

This is exactly what happened to my 71-year-old mother as my father, age 74, was taking his last breaths. Ironically, the caregiver had come recommended by a nurse from the hospice agency. Hiring her should have been a safe bet -- or so it seemed.

She didn't last long, but still, it took Mom a few days to muster the courage to her go. The truth is, she liked the company, the feeling that, when other family couldn't be there, she wasn't alone. But when debt collectors (aka, the people she owed money to, according to Mom) came calling for the woman at my parents' house, Mom's better judgment kicked into gear. Fortunately, the woman left without much fuss.

Nothing bad happened to my mother, her bank accounts or worldly possessions. Other older adults are not so fortunate, and find their collectibles taken and pawned, their bank accounts compromised. Because many are anxious about hiring help in the first place, either because they don't trust outsiders or don't want to spend the money, when the situation gets overwhelming and they do hire, they do it out of desperation or fear (as happened to be the case with my Mom) and don't want to let go once the decision is made.

FBI profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole, Ph.D., who has worked on many high-profile cases including the Elizabeth Smart abduction and the Unabomber, addresses this issue of acting out of fear -- and why it doesn't work -- in her recently published Dangerous Instincts--How Gut Feelings Betray Us (with Alisa Bowman; Hudson Street Press). This book is an engaging read from page one; I finsihed it in just a couple of sittings I've wanted to address the concrete issues of having someone safe in the home versus just filling a job, and now Dr. O'Toole weighs in. When under times of stress and/or fear, how can can we teach ourselves to abstain from reacting, say, when selecting a caregiver? Here are some questions she created that caregivers can ask themselves, complete with her suggestions about how to proceed:

1. What kind of a monitoring system will you be using to determine if care is being provided adequately? Even if money is an issue, consider some independent means of monitoring the care giving. This could include drop-ins at the home, or cameras set up in the home/facility to monitor what is happening to your loved one.

2. How much access will care giver have to patient's life - valuables, finances, etc. If the caregiver is going to have access to valuables, finances, etc. give it gradually. Don't hand over the keys to everything right away. Assess them and their behavior for awhile.

3. How many other clients and or commitments does this caregiver have? If this person is too busy - or has too many personal problems or demands in their own life, they won't have time for your loved one. One could way to tell this could be ---- during their interview, how often does their cell phone go off?

4. How many professional groups is this care giver affiliated with? (Visiting Angels, etc.) Know which professional orgs. are in your area, and know how they keep track of complaints filed against their members. If your candidate has been giving health care for awhile, but has not taken a course or been the member of a professional group, this could be a red flag....find.

5. What is the physical condition of the care giver - are they actually in a position to do the job?Is this person able to lift and turn the patient , help them to the restroom etc. If they are not - the job may not get done and your loved one will be ignored and develop additinonal medical problems.

6. Who else will the care giver be bringing into your home - and what is their backup plan if they get ill or cannot come to the home due to illness etc. Know who else will be providing care to your loved one - this requires a separate assessment of that person. For example, Know if the caregiver is going to have their children there after school because they cannot afford a babysitter. This is a bad situation. Expect a "game" plan from the caregiver in terms how they will handle the job and their own life demands as well.

Visit Dr.O'T'oole website here.

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