the art of caring for your aging loved one


On Guard; Not Paranoid

Personal care providers can be a blessing. They perform duties that we cannot or will not perform; after all, in her heart, which daughter really wants to change her mother's diapers?

There are many for-profit care-giving businesses. It's a scheduling issue and a variety of people will show up, often at different times. Eventually your Aging Loved One will develop a favourite. "Mandy is lovely. She and I have long chats. She has told me all about her family."

One conversation leads to another. Over time, the chats may become very personal. Mum may discuss things with Mandy that Mum would never divulge to you. Mum may talk about finances or health or her family. Loneliness and/or depression may contribute to chattiness.

Guess who learns more than you'd prefer about Mum and her family. That care-giver could be armed with anything from medication information to credit card numbers to ... well, you get the drift.

Mandy has built trust and friendship. She may have carefully ingratiated herself into Mum's confidence. She may have less-than-ideal motives.

This can become a threatening situation to you, to Mum, or both.

Consider this: Mum is hard of hearing. Mandy answers an incoming phone call, sweetly saving Mum from having to get up and trying to make sense of the caller. No one knows who is calling but Mandy. It's her husband/boyfriend/partner-in-crime. Mandy discreetly gives out Mum's Social Insurance Number. Or bank account number. Or prescription drug number. Or credit card number.

Mandy and her fella are in cahoots and as crooked as they come. Mum's been robbed. It wasn't a "break and enter" type of robbery. It was slow, calculated, and deliberate. It's horrifying and it happens every day.

What to do?

Screen the Caregivers

Put in as much time and effort as you would if you were hiring someone to care for a young child. A crippled oldster and a toddler have many common needs. They need help with toileting, food preparation, administration of medications, transportation, organisation. They need a safe environment.

Ask the agency about the person(s) who will come into the home.

Learn who else may become involved and why.

Get references and conduct all possible background checks.

Drop in often and unannounced. Encourage other family members or a neighbour to do the same.

Trust your Gut Reaction

Suppose a particular care-giver gives you bad vibes. Act. In the community section of The File, find the care-giver's boss, and say, "Please do not send Mandy to my mother." You don't have to explain anything. No song and dance. The supervisor of any reputable agency will write on the file "Do Not Send [the name you give]" and that will be it. Easy. You may have to do this a few times until you find someone who makes Mum happy.


Ask her if she feels comfortable being with Mandy. Any particular feelings about her? Anything concerns? Spread out the questions over a few days, if you feel it might result in a clearer picture for you.

Tactic: try to avoid introducing words such as "suspicious" and "trust."

You may put ideas into an already unhappy mind. Skirt around the issue but don't put words into mouths.

Think of a visit to your dentist with a tooth problem. The dentist will ask, "Where does it hurt? Can you tell me what sets off the pain?"

Notice that he hasn't asked if it's worse with hot or cold foods, crunchy or sweet things. He hasn't made any suggestions that might make you reply, "Oh, yes. That's it." He's waiting for you to volunteer the information he needs. He may have to ask in different ways, with different words, but he'll find out what he needs to know.

You must use the same investigation techniques. Keep asking questions, and patiently wait for information.

When you learn of any monkey business, act swiftly.

The gentle approach: "Mum, maybe we could see if there is someone else who would be better suited to you and your home."

The direct approach: "Mum, I'd be happier asking for a replacement for Mandy." As always, you must judge the situation and use whatever words are necessary to get the job done.

Remember ... Someone sent out a signal for help. You're ensuring a safe environment.