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Is Care Giver Abusing Mother?
Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins

Question: Although she has memory problems, Mother still knows what she is doing and gets around pretty well for a woman in her 80's. Because my brother and I live out- of-state and were concerned about her safety, however, we convinced her to get a live-in companion to help. Through an interview process, we helped Mom find a widow in her mid-60's who agreed to move in and assist her. We also helped our mother establish a relationship with a local brokerage firm to handle her investments and make sure that funds were available for her care. This was nearly two years ago.

We believed that everything was running smoothly and were comfortable with the situation until recently, when we began getting vibes that all may not be well. When we call, we generally talk to the caregiver who tells us that Mother is sleeping or resting, but paints a picture of an absolutely perfect situation. When we visit, we are seldom able to be with Mother alone. During this entire time, the caregiver has not taken one day off – which we find strange. When we tried to check on Mother's finances, the broker told us that Mom had instructed him not to provide anyone with any information about her accounts. Similarly, Mother's doctor told us that he was not allowed to talk to us about her condition. When we tried to talk to Mom about this, she tells us it's none of our business. While we do not want to be accusatory, we feel Mother is going downhill and is being manipulated. Is there anything we can do?

Answer: Long-distance relationships between an elderly parent and adult children can lead to unexpected problems, especially when a "trusted third person" is interjected to help the elderly parent. Based on the circumstances you describe, we believe your concerns are justified. Of the nearly 35 million Americans over age 65, an estimated 1.5 million -- more than 5 percent of the elder population -- are abused annually. In 86 percent of the cases, the abuser is a relative or caregiver, and in 75 percent of these situations, the abuser resides with the elderly person and cares for him or her.

Here we have a long-term caregiver who is able to influence a weakened elderly person who relies upon that caregiver. Your mother's reaction is not unlike that of most victims of this type of abuse: Either she cannot, or will not, stop the abuse for a number of reasons, including emotional depression, loss of self-esteem, apathy, or even a fear of losing a caretaker who – although abusive -- may be the only person available to help her as an alternative to being placed in a nursing home. Since your relationship with your mother has changed and you are now blocked from seeing her financial and medical records, we wouldn't be surprised if the caregiver has been telling your mother that you and your brother plan on putting her in a nursing home, but that the caregiver will make sure this does not happen.

Possibly, your mother has given the caregiver a power of attorney. And since you cannot get to the financial or medical records, you are no longer able to determine whether there is any unusual activity in your mother's financial accounts, or whether her health is deteriorating.

NextSteps: Do nothing until the situation has been thoroughly investigated. Seek out an elder law attorney and find out what elder abuse legislation exists in your mother’s state of residence. Check the public records to determine if your mother has signed a durable power of attorney. Consider engaging an experienced private investigator to get background information about the caregiver and current information about your mother's situation. You may then decide to report this to the local Adult Protective Services agency or to handle the matter through the probate court in a guardianship and/or conservatorship action – if your mother's incapacity justifies this type of action. Either way, begin your investigation quickly.

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Today, more than 36 million Americans are age 65 or over. There are more than 22 million family-member caregivers. Then there are the Baby Boomers. All are grappling with the major decisions that accompany the latter stages of life. This book is for them. Written by two experts with decades of experience between them, it is a comprehensive guide that instructs readers about how to create a plan to deal with all aspects of aging, helps maximize options and ensure wishes are carried out.

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