Looking After an Elderly Parent or Relative in Their Home
This article serves as a guide for the caring of an elderly relative. Based on my personal experience, I discuss hiring health care aides, dealing with elder care agencies, and the need for having legal power of attorney.
My dear Aunt passed away at the remarkable age of 98. The last few years were not easy for her.
She was a very trusting woman and people took advantage of her because they saw she never thought a bad thing about anyone.
This trust has lead to really difficult times as the years progressed. You may never know if people are taking advantage of an elderly relative until it’s too late.
The time came when she asked me to help her with paying her bills and hiring help. I loved her dearly and was pleased to offer my assistance.
Some people place an elderly relative in a home so they are taken care of by people who dedicate their life to elder care. I couldn’t do that for two reasons...
(1) She wished to live out her remaining days in her apartment.
(2) She still had a clear mind and it would be silly to take her away from her happy life despite the fact that she herself said she lost her quality-of-life as her body deteriorated.
Maintaining the Well-being of an Elderly Person
I helped with everything to maintain her well-being. I paid her bills and managed her health insurance. I handled the budget so that her social security and pension payments covered her expenses.
I used to visit her once in a while throughout my adult life. However, in the last several years of her life I was visiting her almost every week to help with affairs that continuously needed attention.
When I took over I discovered that her stockbroker purchased investments that guaranteed income, but lost value. She had insisted on having income to cover her expenses. That is exactly what the broker did for her, but he didn’t care if the balance of the account kept shrinking.
He was still making money from commission, and my Aunt trusted him. He told her at her age she needed to have secure income. He set up her account with income-producing investments that were losing value over the years and she never knew it. She was just looking at the income, which stayed consistent.
I tried to explain to her “what good are 10% dividends if the value of the principle drops.” I never could convince her because she had an advisor who said it doesn’t matter if the principle goes down to zero. It will still pay out the 10% dividend.
She couldn’t look past that stupid remark because she never really understood investing. I left her investments as they were rather than upset her, but I made sure the total of all her income covered her living costs. The main idea was to avoid going into a nursing home. As long as the aides could be paid she could stay in her apartment.
I visited and brought food for lunch on weekends. Many times she invited one or two friends of hers and it would be like a party. I enjoyed chatting with her friends and getting to know more about her past.
I found it strange how little I knew about my own Aunt while growing up. I only wish I had taken the opportunity to talk with her about things that happened in her early life. My Aunt was a holocaust survivor and held a lot of secrets that she didn’t want to talk about. I feel I was at fault for not pushing for information. It would have helped after her death, as I had never imagined how crazy it was about to become.
The Role of a Health Care Aide
As I mentioned, she had previously hired aides to help her get around. They took her to the grocery store, to the beauty parlor, museums in the city, to the park on nice days, to the doctor when she had appointments.
The problem was that she trusted them too much and I discovered problems with almost every situation.
Video - List Your Eldercare Needs
Dealing with Abusive Health Care Aides
Her aides went shopping for her and she needed to take cash out from the bank to pay what they needed for groceries, staples, etc. I noticed that the requests for cash were steadily increasing.
They took advantage of her by telling her it’s because of inflation. She was always so gullible and believed everyone. This made it even more difficult for me when I told her I had to put a limit on how much cash we are taking out from her bank account.
One of the aides was always listening in on her phone conversations. My Aunt was becoming hard of hearing so she needed to use the speakerphone rather than hold the phone to her ear. Of course the aide could hear everything.
One time my Aunt asked me how she was doing with her finances. She was worried that she was running out of money. Aides are expensive. You’re lucky if you can work out deals around $12 an hour. This is not live-in. They work their shift and go home. Live-in aides are cheaper, but then you need to share your home with them entirely. My Aunt only had a one-bedroom apartment.
Anyway, I had to answer her question on the phone in such as way that wouldn’t scare her. I didn’t want to give her a heart attack, so I said “Your doing fine. You have enough money.” Well, the aide heard that and I think she told the other aide that they could get more out of us because within days both asked for raises.
After I told them we have already negotiated and we also have a tight budget, they began increasing their purchases of staples and food. None of which could be accounted for. My Aunt couldn’t have been eating so much and using so many of the items being purchased. They must have been taking them home for themselves. This is something that needs to be monitored carefully.
Over time my Aunt started complaining that one of the girls was yelling at her and losing her temper. I guess she was frustrated that she overheard me on the phone and thought she could get more money. I had to find new aides, and this time I'd use a contract.
How to Write a Contract for an Elder Care Aide
I knew I needed to get new aides who I felt I can trust to take care of her. First of all I needed to get it clear in my own head what I expected of them. So, I created an elder aide contract that I would have the new aids sign so we all knew what to expect from one another.
The contract had to make it clear that the aide is an Independent Contractor. It also needed to specify the work to be performed by the aides.
This is what I wrote for that clause:
The Patient and the Independent Contractor agree that the Independent Contractor will perform the work as Home Health Aide with the following Elder Care Responsibilities:
- Provide patient with help moving in and out of beds, baths, wheelchairs, or automobiles, such as for transportation to doctor appointments.
- Personal Care such as dressing, grooming, and maintenance of hygiene.
- Administer medications as instructed per “Technical Direction” below.
- Preparing healthy meals, Local Errands & Shopping.
Working with Elder Care Aide Agencies
Now that I was prepared to find better aides, the time came that I needed to fire the two aides causing trouble.
I needed to find a better agency. I did my due diligence by asking for references and also doing Google searches to see if anything negative could be found.
On the Internet you can also search for court judgments on companies and on individuals. These are important steps to take.
I hired two new aids and it took some time for my Aunt to adjust to them. That is to be expected. Happily, after a warm up period she ended up loving them.
No one is perfect and one was better than the other. Ironically one day early before dawn the better one called me and asked why she was being fired. I was shocked to hear that question and I told her if anyone were doing any firing, it would be me.
It turned out the agency told her not to come back and they were sending another girl that morning. I called and yelled at them. How dare they switch people like that and expect my elderly Aunt to be comfortable with a stranger all over again. And without warning!
I told the agency that I want the girl to stay and I mentioned that I already told her to ignore it and come in as usual.
My Aunt could have died from heart attack...it was so difficult to have her accept the last change. I didn't want her to go through that again.
I found out later that the agency tried to fire the aide because they make more money placing her with another elderly person. The first week with a new client needs to be paid twice. One to the aide and one to the agency. By moving them around they get more of these extra payments. Not all agencies get paid extra for the first week, but it is something to check into.
Video - Hiring An Eldercare Aide
Why You Need to Have Control as Power Of Attorney
There were a number of times that I hit brick walls when trying to help her.
One time I had to call customer service of her credit card to discuss a problem. They didn’t want to talk to me because they didn’t have my Power Of Attorney on file.
Another time I had to handle litigation after firing one of the aides that abused her.
Having a General POA is useless because banks don’t accept it. Banks usually want one to file a POA with their own forms.
In addition, it's important to have one made from a standard form that can be used when needed. There are many good sites where you can purchase legal forms that you can find with a Google search. You can download a standard power of attorney form.
The form has options to check off that show you have permission to handle various legal tasks. One that I originally left out was to have litigation rights. You never know when you might need that. I wrote another article about my experience with that issue.
In either case, you have to get it notarized. In my case this required bringing my elderly Aunt to the bank in a wheelchair to get it notarized.
These can be the most struggling times for both the elderly and the family members who look after them. When all the issues are handled properly, and with foresight, one can keep things going smoothly and assure that the elderly relative is comfortable and happy.
© 2010 Glenn Stok