Shady Characters That Caregivers Should Be Aware of (Part 1)

The Dutch have a saying: “The world is good, but the people could be better.” While some people can be allies in providing care to an elderly loved one, others can be your worst enemies.

Many caregivers who are thrust into their eldercare role look for all the help they can get, especially if their elderly parent or other loved one is suffering from short-term memory loss, declining driving ability, and accidents around the house. But sometimes in their desperation, caregivers—or the one they’re caring for—fall prey to shady characters who don’t have the elderly person’s best interests at heart.

This article highlights two such characters to watch out for. We’ll round up the cast of bad characters next week with two more to be on the lookout for.

The Black Sheep

Many families have one—the so-called black sheep—be it an unemployed nephew, ex-doper niece or perpetually lazy grandson. Such people may come out of the woodwork when they see an opportunity to capitalize on a compromised elderly relative living alone. They may offer to move in and take care of the person in exchange for free rent and use of the car. Although it may seem like a win-win situation to have family around to watch out for and protect your aging parent, you should view the sudden appearance of a “black sheep” as a red flag.

The same might be said of a neighbor who has volunteered to look after your mom. And even a person installed by a supposedly reputable caregiver company may be suspect. I’m not saying that these people aren’t legitimate, but you should remain vigilant, carefully vetting all potential helpers and overseeing their efforts. If their motivations are less than pure and they know you’ll be keeping a watchful eye over them, they’ll be less likely to commit any wrongdoing. Even so, if you get a bad feeling about a person or notice cash, jewelry or other easily pawnable items going missing, you should intervene before an all-too-common elderly abuse scenario plays out.

Dangerous and Harmful Religious Groups

Religion is always a touchy subject. On the one hand, many religious organizations provide comfort and fellowship for the elderly. And while you may not agree with the views espoused by a particular group, as a caregiver you can respect those views, especially if your elderly relative benefits from their involvement. Yet, although most spiritual organizations may be benign, dangerous and harmful religious groups that prey on the elderly do exist.

Some religious groups and charismatic televangelists exert undue influence on the elderly by exhorting them to financially support their campaign to “set an example for youth” or “help the less fortunate in the world.” But abuse can run much deeper than overzealous fundraising. You could encounter groups trying to pressure your loved one to turn over everything from their savings account to their home.

Unfortunately, even mainstream religious organizations can sometimes unknowingly cause problems. For example, one devout Catholic elderly woman I know ended up on the mailing lists of many Catholic charities. She dutifully wrote a check to each group, thereby overdrawing her checking account each month until her caregiver stepped in and took her checkbook away. Such a story underscores the importance of keeping tabs on what’s happening with your elderly relative’s finances to ensure that nothing is amiss.

In an ideal world, family members and religious groups would always have good intentions when it comes to your elderly loved one. Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world. As a caregiver, be aware of the red flags for a shady character and be ready to take action. Next week we’ll cover two more characters that can do more harm than good.