Help! Dad's Caregiver Is After His Money -- But He Thinks It's True Love

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Worried that the object of an elder's affection is nothing more than a gold digger? Here's how to unravel the romance before it's too late.

Problem #1: Dad keeps giving his caregiver expensive gifts.

What happens: Dad buys his caregiver costly items, such as a watch and a laptop -- or pays a caregiver-turned-girlfriend's rent and school fees. Or Mom gives her caregiver extra cash to buy toys, books, and food for her children. Loneliness and isolation can make older adults particularly vulnerable to relationships that start out as caregiving arrangements but quickly cross the line into friendship or romance, says Carolyn Rosenblatt, author of The Boomer's Guide to Aging Parents and consultant and mediator at "What I see all too often is elders with a desperate need for love, touch, and pleasure. When someone steps in to meet those needs, they're very vulnerable."

What to watch for: Be alert for signs that your parent's attachment to the caregiver is becoming extremely personal. You might start to hear stories about the caregiver's family difficulties, dire financial straits, or ill relatives. "Any sob story or plea for sympathy is a danger sign," Rosenblatt says.

What to say: In situations like this, logic isn't likely to work well, and neither are accusations. If you begin to criticize the caregiver, your parent is likely to jump to his or her defense. "Trying to talk someone who's lonely out of a relationship is like trying to talk you or me out of having the need to eat or sleep," says Rosenblatt.

Instead, express your sympathy for your father's loneliness and let him know you care about his situation. You might say something like, "Dad, since Mom died it's been pretty quiet and isolated here at the house. I can imagine how hard that must be." Discuss the emotional side of your father's needs and work with him to come up with solutions other than more time spent with the caregiver. Maybe he'd like to try the day program at the senior center, or even come live with another family member.

What to do: Call a family meeting -- even if you have to do it by conference call -- and include everyone except the person you're concerned about. Then elect one person to speak for the family in expressing your concerns. But be careful not to sound like you're putting your needs above your parent's. Instead, appeal to his self-interest, which for most older adults revolves around maintaining independence and quality of life. Remind him that these aspects of growing older with dignity depend on his protecting his assets.

If it's within your power, you might want to fire the caregiver, but often a better first step is to establish a careful monitoring situation in which you limit access to funds. Talk to your parent about giving you or another sibling durable power of attorney for finances to protect access to his money, says attorney and caregiving expert Barbara Kate Repa. If your loved one's judgment appears to be seriously impaired and you're not able to convince him or her to grant you power of attorney, you may need to apply for guardianship, also called conservatorship.

Problem #2: Dad wants to marry his caregiver.

What happens: Your parent may fancy himself in love. Or there may be other motives; for example, he may want to marry his caregiver so she can bring her children to the U.S. Either way, way there are long-term consequences that the family must confront.

What to watch for: Look for signs that your parent's relationship with his caregiver is crossing the line from professional to personal, says consultant and author Carolyn Rosenblatt. "It's much easier to try to stop an unhealthy dependence from developing than it is to end it once it's happening."

If a caregiver begins to ask for help, whether in the form of advice, legal referrals, or anything else that's beyond the usual boundaries of a paid position, that's cause for concern. So is any kind of plea for money, whether in the form of a gift, loan, or even a pay advance. If your parent already considers himself to be in a romantic relationship with his caregiver, then it becomes a question of searching for signs that the caregiver's intention is to access your parent's finances.

What to say: Open the dialogue gently, making sure your father feels that his side of the issue is being heard. "You may only have one shot at this conversation," says Kenneth Robbins, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Resist the temptation to speak authoritatively, as it could make your parent feel like you're reversing roles on him and telling him what to do with his life. Express your concerns in terms of your father's well-being. You might mention that the timing seems sudden, or that things are happening fast, and you'd just like to feel sure that he's thinking through the decision. If you have any concern that your dad's thinking might be impaired, ask if he's had a checkup recently and suggest that you make an appointment, says Robbins.

What to do: Keep uppermost in your mind the fact that control over his life and finances ultimately rests with your dad, unless his thinking is impaired. If an evaluation shows that your parent suffers from dementia, then it may be important to apply for guardianship before he begins making decisions with serious consequences, Robbins says. If you live in a community-property state, then your father's marriage could grant his new wife ownership over half of his assets, whether or not the marriage lasts. You can gently explain that this is a huge consequence and that you'd like to seek some legal advice before he takes this enormous step.

Problem #3: Dad keeps giving his caregiver and caregiver's family money for work that's never done.

What happens: Your dad's caregiver offers to help him get repairs made around the house and brings in her cousin Ned to do the work. Your dad pays his caregiver and Ned to purchase materials and supplies or as an "advance" on the work, which then never seems to be completed. Before you know it, Ned always seems to be around, and Dad seems more and more dependent on him.

What to watch for: Look for signs that the situation is developing into a pattern. It's important to distinguish between a one-time event or infrequent request and a situation that appears to be a pattern of behavior, one that's likely to escalate, experts say. Pay attention to transparency; does your parent know the full name of the person offering to do the work, and does he have any way to reach him directly?

What to say: Start by treating the situation as legitimate, and ask your parent for the worker's contact information. You might say, "Dad, I just want to make sure Ned understands exactly what we want him to do. Did he give you a business card?" You could also ask your parent if the workman provided an estimate of the work to be done -- and, if not, explain that you're going to call to get that information.

What to do: Let the caregiver know you're aware of what's happening and that access to your parent's money won't be so easy from now on. If you live in the area, be there the next time the workman is coming over to "work," and ask for identification and a contract. Often in these situations, if a scammer realizes a family member is becoming involved, he or she will fade away.

Meanwhile, if the caregiver was hired through an agency, notify the agency that the caregiver is referring family members for additional work outside the agency -- likely a violation of the company's policy. If the caregiver was hired independently, you're on your own. As the employer, though, you can stipulate what's allowed and what's not. If your parent is willing and you haven't already done so, write up a simple contract covering the work to be performed, and include a clause that the caregiver is not to bring in or "subcontract" work to other people.

With or without your dad's cooperation, contact your local Area Agency on Aging. Its staff is on the alert for local scams and frauds and can offer assistance. Start by talking to your dad and suggesting he make the call; Ann Cason, a caregiving consultant and author of Circles of Care: How to Set Up Quality Home Care for Our Elders, notes that many older adults caught up in these kinds of situations are embarrassed and are often more comfortable talking to an outsider than to a family member.

Problem #4: Dad's caregiver moves her family into the house.

What happens: When a caregiver has been in an older adult's life for a long time, she can begin to feel like family. And with housing scarce and expensive and many seniors living alone, it's surprisingly common for caregivers to ask if there's room for one more. Often a temporary request from a caregiver ("Could my son stay here for a few days while he's in town?") turns into a permanent situation. When that happens, "family" takes on a whole new meaning.

What to watch for: Stories of adult children who are out of work, siblings or spouses who are ill or disabled, anyone who "needs a break" or has some other personal issue going on.

What to say: Avoid direct criticism, since your parent's impulse was to be generous to someone he depends on, an admirable trait. Now that he's being taken advantage of, though, he's liable to feel embarrassed and ashamed, experts say, and criticism will just make him feel worse. Help him get out of the situation without embarrassment by saying, "Dad, it was so nice of you to let Janey move her son in; I know you meant well and it was such a kind thing to do. But it's been long enough, and we're not doing him any favors by letting him live here -- he needs a push to get on his own two feet. And it's just getting too crowded; I want you to be able to have some peace." This way the two of you are on the same side and can approach the caregiver as a united front.

What to do: Confrontation is unavoidable in this instance, but avoid the risk of tempers spiking by approaching it as a professional discussion. Visit the house and ask the caregiver to come outside to speak with you, so the discussion doesn't take place in front of the family members living in the home.

If your parent seems intimidated by the caregiver or the caregiver's family members, though, this is not an issue to be tackled alone. Call your Area Agency on Aging or Adult Protective Services and ask for help. These social service agencies have intervened in many such situations before (you'd be surprised how often) and will explain the possible steps you can take, including having a sheriff or policeman present while you evict the unwanted tenants.

Problem #5: Dad's new caregiver has suddenly become his "date" and he's spending all his money on her.

What happens: An inappropriate relationship with a senior family member doesn't have to be overtly sexual; many times it takes the form of companionship that skirts the line between normal caregiving activities and excessive extravagance. Other relationships change course openly: All of a sudden Dad wants the family to invite Penny over for dinner.

What to watch for: Uncharacteristic behavior, such as dramatic changes in routine or increased spending, is a red flag. One adult daughter from Tennessee reports that her father, who'd always been thrifty and a devotee of early bird and blue plate specials, suddenly began ringing up big tabs at gourmet restaurants for meals that often included an expensive bottle of wine -- although her dad didn't drink. When she approached the caregiver about the expenses running up her father's charge cards, the caregiver shrugged and said, "So he likes to go to nice places; what can I say?"

What to say: Approach this topic delicately, since your father's an adult, and his personal life -- and the expenses related to it -- are his business and likely to be a touchy subject. If there are siblings, discuss this among yourselves so everyone's on the same page, then elect one of you to be the spokesperson to talk to Dad. You don't want him to feel ganged-up on.

Mention to him that you've noticed his dining habits have changed a bit, and dig around -- oh so delicately -- about how he feels about that. Has he developed a passion for checking out the latest hot spots, or were the restaurant choices his companion's idea? As much as possible, let your dad lead the conversation and tell you how he feels about the situation.

What to do: Take a two-pronged attack here; protect your father's money while working to get him some more appropriate companionship in his life. Legally, your father's money is his to spend as he pleases, and if expensive dinners and nights on the town are his new entertainment of choice, there's not a lot you can do about it.

However, many people have found that older family members, when presented with other opportunities for companionship and fun, quickly move away from potentially exploitative relationships like this one. An Illinois man whose father was in this situation enrolled him in classes at the local senior center, where he quickly found his companionship in demand due to the high female-to-male ratio among his classmates. Once he met attractive women his own age, he lost interest in the caregiver who was insisting on being wined and dined.

Melanie Haiken

Melanie Haiken discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions when she was health editor of Parenting magazine. See full bio

12 months, said...

It is not about the family wanting the is about trying to protect your elderly parent from being taken advantage of, being hurt, misled, lied to and theft. Been through this experience with my dad who ended up losing everything including his heart and dignity...she became his wife and she was abusing him. Legal counsel said there was nothing we could do unless he sought help. And now my father in law has fallen for a waitress who is half his age and we see the same situation. She can do no wrong and has started to mention needing money. It is a tough situation for adult children. Please don't judge people so harshly and assume they are selfish . There are a lot of family dynamics in these situations. It is not easy to resolve. And it hard on a family.

over 4 years, said...

It sounds to me like most of the comments were made by caregivers and not the children. The comments make a lot of terrible assumptions about the children. The fact is when a caregiver is hired for a job; the intent of the family is not to appoint the caregiver to become an adoptive member if the family. Any caregiver going beyond the original reason for the employment is manipulating an older person slowly losing their mental faculties. I consider that reason for justifiable automatic termination. Also, I consider caregivers engaged in such tactics as criminal. If a caregiver wants to be extra personal, well that is wobderful, but they should not expect extra rewards, otherwise their intent would be diaengenuous.

over 4 years, said...

7 years now I have cared for dad in my home. He has Alz and I have POA and Medical power as well. I receive opinions from others who have not even seen dad or me in years. They complain about the money he had 7 years ago. Well, I ask you how much does it cost to care for someone for 7 years as they lose their ability to walk, to use the bathroom, as they need special medical equipment, as they deal with doctors who do not know them or their needs? No one else can take care of him in this family, no one else has the time, I get that 100% and I even understand how family sometimes has to put a loved one in a home. What I cannot understand is how some of you opine of caregivers when none of you have walked a day in my life, gone months on increments of 3 hours sleep at a time, spent day and night, month after month giving your life for someone who means so much to you? Please BE CAREFUL. While someone did step in to "take" dad when first diagnosed and did write us all out of his will, I put a stop to it, and changed his will to an irrevocable trust and brought him home with me. She took all his valuables and his car and sent him back for me to care for when inconvenient to her. But now he is with me, what surprises me is how many of my family and friends want me to let him go, when in fact, he is not dying. How many hold these opinions that when I took his money to make the house "state approved" for his stay here, they blamed me when a nursing home would have taken that money faster than it took us to bring this house to code. And my friends who have life to live at their leisure they tell me he is suffering how dare I keep him alive at 90? He has Alzheimer's but he talks, he has compassion and emotions, he knows where home is and who we are. You think I ought to stop feeding him and what exactly is your motive for me to "let him die"? And how do I do that, stop feeding him when he loves to eat? I have been in and out of hospitals, even contacted hospice at times, but each time hospice had to walk away because he was not suffering needlessly and he was not dying. Be careful how you pant for the money. It is NOT ABOUT THE MONEY. I will be left penniless because all my money has been spent supplementing the money dad gets which is not enough. And you tell me to plan better, really? Add up the expenses I pay per month just for dad, ok there you go, it costs me over 3,000.00 per month to keep him here, to pay aides out of pocket that are not covered by the state program that will not bump him up a level because they have counted his Aide and Attendance from the VA as pension, which btw is breaking the law! To cover his food which is a special diet with no salt and bumped up protein and added supplements that keep him strong enough to STILL walk with Parkinson's and spinal stenosis and arthritis in his back! To buy the diapers and lotions and cleaning supplies needed to keep this place sterile and safe. To pay the fees for nursing facilities that kept him past medicare coverage and refused to let him come home! To pay for attorneys who did nothing to help him, when in fact I ended up filling out all the forms to get him the aid he needs! To pay for medical equipment to help him sleep better, get up and down the stairs, to give him safe places to be and to walk. And yet you think that giving someone money for offering an elderly person companionship is wrong and has something to do with you? Well you try it please, I welcome you to my home to spend one day with dad and me! How hard it is, how can I explain to you that I did not do this so I could have POA over his MONEY! Check into what those with ALZ have when they die, and how soon they die, and how many actually live 7 years and still talk! It is a disease that brings poverty on all those who care for them and on them as elderly. I wish I got a bonus for caring for dad, but I do not even get 100.00 a month from one single family member to help subsidize his care so I do it, I pay out of my disability and buy his food on my food stamps so he gets what he needs. No I got nothing out of this financially, but emotionally and spiritually I am so very blessed. Dad will die in poverty and leave me in poverty, but I do not live in the future, who the heck can live in the future when living with an Alz patient, that would be like living a personal Apocalypse every day! Have compassion on those of us who give our lives to care for your parents, please. As I said the other day to many people who wondered WHY on his 90th birthday he would still be alive and suffering because of me, "Please rather than your opinions your friendship and understanding is all I ask for". I get both sides of the situation, I would not have let dad go with his ex g/f to be put into a home. I stood up for him and then watched him cry over losing her, when I knew she would not even part with the few things of his own he asked her for. I had to fight to get him and now he is with his daughter, his grand daughter and his grandson and his dog and he knows each one of us. And because I have known him for 61 years, knew his mother (my grandmother so well) and his family and his life, I am the one who helps him remember all those good days of his wonderful life that was solely dedicated to helping others, particularly young people who wanted to go to college! I was ever aware of this when I took him away from her, she would not have been able to help him recall all the good years of his life like I could, she has slipped from his mind for now more than 5 years. But we have not, he calls us by name and tells us how he loves us. So given I have lived both sides of this argument or discussion, I ask those of you who worry about your parents giving their money away to think of this. When my mom was getting her estate in order she kept asking me what I wanted her to do with "my money". All I kept saying was it is "your money". And you know I got mom's house and before mom died she looked at me and said, "You take your father in if he needs you to!" She died before he was diagnosed but yet she knew there was something very wrong and she asked me to do this, no one but me. And so here in her house, or our house, I take care of dad and I have no idea how I will manage when he is gone, for I have not a penny saved much to the horror of my two income relatives. But when dad goes I will have peace of mind and know that God knows that I did what was right, despite the opinions of others. btw, this government shut down has left us without the help we get from the wonderful veterans! I live on a wish and a prayer. But I also know that when we go we take none of our money, we only take that which we have given to others. With such deep honor for those who are elderly and those who are alone and elderly, Most gratefully yours, a loving daughter.

over 4 years, said...

I wrote a response to this article yesterday started with PLEASE BE CAREFUL! I published it anonymously and it is not here! What happened, please explain!

over 4 years, said...

This is my father-in-law in spades (except I do not think he would consider it 'Love". Just a business transaction, he is convinced that his "cleaning lady" who is being paid $72,000 a year and living with free room and board will quit. He has bought her a $75,00 piece of property ("she needs some equity, nobody can iive and save on $72k/year." There is NO talking to him about her. If she were to say the sky is green, there is no convincing him it is not. His kids are afraid to cross him, he is incredibly vindictive. One of his favorite phrases, usually involving his neighbors is "I'll sue their asses."

over 4 years, said...

I felt compelled to leave a comment on this article as I have an elderly father who is in this situation and it's not because he lacks love and attention from his family. My elderly father, 92, lost his wife, my mother 7 years ago. He is legally blind and started needed assistance in the home 4 years ago. Being an only child and born late in their lives, I still work a full time job and needed m-f help. My father does not have dementia and didn't display issues with reasoning until recently. This article makes a point to look for red flags and shouldn't be confused with greedy children. My father clearly stated that he loved his caregiver and at one point wanted to marry her (57 years difference) Red Flags: Getting paid for hours not worked (she has family problems) Always has car problems, can't come to work, vehicle is two years old (father volunteers money to get car fixed) Children are always sick, misses work, can't pay bills (more cash given out) Works less hours and getting paid more Home is always dirty and smells like urine, father can't see. Self Neglect and Elder neglect because she needs to get home (openly discussed family problems with father) only works 1 hour two day a week. Two previous DUI's (last ten years-fired from agency for being intoxicated on job-father hires her privately) He still loves her and will do anything to keep her happy and coming to his home. THESE ARE THE RED FLAGS! Hats off to those dedicated care givers who truly make a difference for an elderly person and their family, wish I could get one. Red Flags:

about 5 years, said...

One must always consider that a relationship between a carer and their cared for that develops into something more personal is not automatically a bad thing and can often be quite a good thing as the quality of care is much better. Relationships whether romantic or platonic that develop in any other workplace wouldn't automatically be treated with such suspicion. My carer and I are in a relationship, many assumed it was exploitative at first (in both directions depending on who's side they were on) but we have been for nearly 6 years now. The main issue now is making sure he ever gets any time off from caring for me, which is difficult because he doesn't trust anyone to look after me properly!

about 5 years, said...

If you are the child of a disabled parent who relies completely on an in-home caregiver to care for your parent, to clean and feed your parent, to spend endless hours talking with your parent, grows to share a "familial" bond with your parent, and all you do is swing by a few times a year, do not blame the caregiver or your parent for building a close personal bond. If you begrudge that caregiver for any gifts your parent gives them, as she would her child or grandchildren. If the parent has the means to do so, it only matters to you because it lessons the cash you will see at the end. How pathetic. If your parent can not afford to spend anything on gifts, then that is a different matter. If you are SO worried about the money, bring your parent into your home or move into her home. But stop making complaints about the ONLY person who is dependable enough to do the actual WORK involved. I work in manufacturing, and I receive a Christmas bonus, and on occasion when the economy is doing better, we also get a quarterly bonus. There is NOTHING wrong with that, it's our employer acknowledging our VALUE to the company. Yet you begrudge someone who actually takes care of your own parent... wow, that's cheap, and pathetic.

about 5 years, said...

Why not just take care of YOUR own parents so that you would not have a paranoid feeling about caregivers? After all, they are YOUR parents and they took care of you when since you were an infant.

about 5 years, said...

ur approach to caregiving is far from understanding the elders!

about 5 years, said...

Melanie, you are standing on the wrong premise!

about 5 years, said...

For me what is important is that the elderly is happy even he will lost all his money. He is going to die anyway and he can not bring his money! At least in his last days he is happy in which his very own family can not give anymore! But if the family is jealous to the caregiver then by all means do not put your elderly on the care of caregivers!

about 5 years, said...

After you abandon your elderly you are now envious of the caregivers! Give them a break. The money they get from those old people can not really pay them the hardwork, care and love. Besides even your parents in their old days can not enjoy their own money! Give them a break too. If you guys are afraid this might happen to your old parents then do not give them to caregivers. You should be the one caregiving them as what they have done to you when you are babies. Did you guys pay your parents caregiving when you are little ones?

about 5 years, said...

Nothing new, Your humans You love money

about 5 years, said...

For the record: I am NOT lumping ALL caregivers into that category. I know of many dedicated, caring people who are caregivers to the elderly. Unfortunately, there are SOME out there who would seek to take advantage of the vulnerability of the elderly and prey on any feelings of loneliness they have. It's VITAL that family members be aware and alert of such people.

about 5 years, said...

@Alaska Penny, let's see if you say that if it were YOUR FATHER or mother that was happening to and when all is said and done, your poor aged parent is left with NOTHING, including a home, finances and they end up having to sell everything they have left and live in a nursing home that is barely covered by insurance instead of their OWN home where they were relatively happy and comfortable. The 'poor guy' is gonna be a LOT POORER if a caregiver comes into his life that does NOT have his best interests at heart; THAT'S what this is about. Keeping Dad safe from people like caregivers who would rob them blind for their own gain.