Elderly care from a non-relative. I need guidance.

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I take care of an elderly couple 3 times a week for 3-4 hours a day. I have been doing this for almost 9 months. I am not related to this couple. Their two grown children are remote and not as involved as they should be. The elderly couple are beginning to need more help and responsibility. I am the one they depend on and call for assistance. During the very beginning of my employ with this couple, I was called 2 hours after leaving their home to take the elderly woman to the emergency room. I spent 5 hours at the hospital and didn't get home until 9:30 at night after starting work at 10 in the morning. I didn't charge them for my time spent at the hospital. Why? Because I felt sorry for them. The elderly gentleman was recently diagnosed with first stage Alzheimer's. I suspect the elderly woman has some form of dementia. She hallucinates, thinking people are in her house cooking and taking things. She wakes up in the night and smells coffee, thinking someone is outside her window drinking coffee. She thinks people can get into her home through the heating vents or somehow coming in through cracks in the roof line. They have ADT security, their home is very secure.

The 3 days a week have turned into any day of the week, any hour. I feel like I'm an on-call employee. Lately, I've been avoiding answering their phone calls. I listen to my answer machine so I can try to figure out a solution to their problem before I speak with them. The elderly couple can no longer drive and so I've been tasked with that job too. I take them to their doctor appointments, errands, groceries, pharmacy, library, etc. They know they can't drive and yet they schedule appointments all over the calendar, not just the days I'm supposed to work for them. I end up switching days, longer hours, etc. I feel a burn-out coming on. I no longer enjoy working for these people. They are becoming more needy and more demanding. I'm non-confrontational and so I end up doing things I don't want to do or have time to do. I have my own family, pets, housework, yard work, errands to tend with.

I just received a phone message from the elderly woman inquiring if I would like to add another day to my schedule. I already work when they need me, so adding another day wouldn't really change much, except they would have the benefit of knowing I would be there. I'm dependable and reliable to them. I don't want the added responsibility. I have trouble falling asleep at night. I'm becoming resentful to the way the elderly woman manipulates my life. She always says she appreciates everything I do, she thanks me too. Sometimes I feel it's phoney because it's offered so much. She words her requests in the way that it makes me feel guilty to say no. I was hired to do light housekeeping and drive them to their doctor appointments on occasion. I am doing that plus fixing things and more and more errands are being added to my list. I made it a point not to be involved in their finances or their security. I don't want to know their ADT security codes or any of their personal issues. When I took this job, I just wanted to clean their house, that was what I thought the intention was. Their children never call me to ask how things are. I've not received one phone call or email from them in that regard.

I will return the elderly lady's phone call at some point today. I will turn down her offer to work one extra day. I don't think I was cut out to be a care giver and I'm contemplating finding another job in a different field. This housekeeping job has turned into much more than I could ever imagine. The emotional roller coaster and physical demands are much more than any person not qualified in the health profession can endure.

I just received another phone message. This is the 3rd message before noon time. This time the elderly lady found the watch she lost. She said it was inside her purse right on the top. She had searched her purse many times since she lost her watch. She said there was also a gold ring at the bottom of her purse and she was wondering if it was mine. I don't own a gold ring. My wedding band is silver and I don't wear jewelry except for my wedding band. The tone was accusatory, like I had taken her watch and placed it in her purse today. I didn't go to their residence today but I was there yesterday. She always tells me when things go missing, whether or not she misplaces these things, they seem to show up weeks later in the most peculiar places. I'm at my wits end.

I've read numerous articles relating to elderly care on this website. Most are from relatives tending to their parents. I was wondering if anyone out there has had a similar experience as my own and if they can offer a helpful solution to my distress.

9 Comments

Cut back to the original duties and do not allow yourself to be taken advantage of. If they need to go to the ER, call their police department to respond to them and notify the family. Delete the phone messages. You are too kind!!
Thank you for your advice, pstiegman. I think that's easier said than done though. I probably should have realized you can't personalize a job like this and need to keep things on a professional level from the very beginning. Live and learn... I will sit down with them tomorrow and try to hash this out (in a nice way of course).
This job is exhibiting scope creep! It started out as one thing and has morphed into something entirely different. Housekeeping and caregiving are two distinct and different jobs. If you are being paid for light housekeeping and chauffeuring on specific days, that is what you should be doing. It does indeed sound like both people have dementia. The skills and stresses of taking care of elderly people with dementia are very different from housekeeping. You may not need to get into another field -- just stick with the field you intended to get into!

It is in some ways not too surprising that the children haven't called you. If I thought my parents had a cleaning person I'm not sure I'd call that person to see how my parents are doing. If I knew my parents had a hired caregiver I think I would indeed be in touch with that person.

I understand that you want to avoid a confrontation. I hope you succeed at that while at the same time being clear and firm that you have to go back to the original hours and duties (or that you are resigning altogether, if that is your preference.) You work set hours; you are not on-call. You sound like a very kind person, and you need to be on guard that your kindness is not taken advantage of.

Personally, I think you have one more opportunity/responsibility here. The remote children should know that their parents are needing increasing amounts of care, and that you can't provide it. It isn't your place to tell them what they should do about that, but it would be a kindness to all parties to make this one-time contact and let them know from an objective third party what their parents may be hiding from them.

Good luck!

(And don't judge the couple harshly. Dementia lowers inhibitions and muddles reasoning ability. They may not have been at all the kind of people who take advantage of others before this disease set in. That doesn't mean you should let them take advantage of you ... just that they are not necessarily bad people.)
Maybe you could contact your local area council on aging, and ask them to get involved. Here's the info I got from Google.
Kearsarge Area Council On Aging
(603) 526-6368
37 Pleasant St, New London, NH 03257

That way, you can give them someone else to turn to as you cut back on your involvement.
GB514, it sure sounds to me like yes indeed you are a caregiver, as well as housekeeper and chauffeur, just an all around good person to have been doing tasks outside your understanding of your responsibilities. JG got it right, it is definitely scope creep! And if you choose to do something above and beyond, make sure you are paid! And definitely let their children know what is going on, they may not have ant idea!
I thank you all for your wonderful advice! I would like to give you an update on recent events. I spoke with the elderly couple about reducing my hours back to the original days and hours. I told them I would like to be able to do other things when I'm not at their home. I asked them to try to schedule doctor appointments, etc on days that I'm there. I'm pretty sure the elderly woman likes to go to the grocery store every time I'm there. I told her it would be nice if she could schedule her groceries once a week and that would leave time to do other things that she likes to do (shopping, hair dresser, library, etc.)

I know the elderly woman is in contact with her son, probably on a daily basis. I think they must have had a discussion about me and he probably told her to let up a bit. If they lose me, their children will have to step up to the plate. The elderly lady is very suspicious of people, and so to gain her trust would be difficult if her son had to hire someone else. Their son had recently set up a schedule with the Visiting Nurse Assoc. and the Council on Aging. The visiting nurse comes on the days I'm not there. Their daughter is scheduled to visit in early December. So, that's good news! Anyway, it would seem, they are trying to accommodate my wishes. The elderly woman never accused me outright of taking her things, but she says it in a way that insinuates that I hid her things or took them out of the house. I don't like that at all because I would never do that. When I first started working there, I was told she was missing a piece of jewelry and a watch her father had given her, this being a different watch than the one she recently lost. The watch ended up being in the safe deposit box at the bank. She found the piece of jewelry in her dresser drawer. Those were both missing before I ever stepped foot in their home.

They live in the middle of "nowhere". No close neighbors, no family, no friends. I think they're a very lonely couple. They are housebound because they can no longer drive a car. I feel obligated to help them out somewhat, but at the same time I feel I need my own space too. I would rather it be a working atmosphere than a family get together. The elderly lady tells me I'm part of the family, but I don't want that kind of relationship. I think she says that so I DO feel obligated to help them. They're lonely and on most days, I'm the only one they see. It's a pretty sad situation to grow old. Working with the elderly brings to light how we'll all be some day.

I think when the daughter visits, I would like to talk to her about her mom. The things I notice, the hallucinations, the falls, the wobbliness and weakness. She'll probably notice these things when she's there anyway. It's very difficult to be detached when you work for someone that's always there, always around you. So far (knock on wood), at least the phone calls have dwindled to once a day. :)

This is a wonderful website. It helps to get things off your chest, and to know others are in similar situations and can offer suggestions! Thank you!
Thanks for the update, and good luck!

It may be somewhat consoling to know that accusations of theft are VERY common in dementia. The person is often afraid that someone will steal their valuables (which can be anything from a plastic comb to a diamond bracelet), so they hide them. Then they forget all about hiding them and are sure that someone did steal the item. Sigh. It is still a frustrating situation, but at least you know it is not personal. She doesn't think you specifically are a thief, but in her paranoia she strikes out at anyone handy.
Giglebites.
Your kindness has made you indispensable to this elderly couple. Clearly a position you do not wish to be in. I think you should contact the family before they come to visit so they have the chance to make other arrangements for their parents. My advice would be to make a clean break. It does not mean you have to unfriend them. You can still visit and maybe take them out occasionally. Their kids have to make other arrangements for full time and emergency care. If you want to continue this line of work in the future you will know the traps to avoid.
Giglebites you are the kind of person we would all want to hire to help our elderly parents. I agree that if possible, you should give this couple's children a heads up to the situation their parents are facing. Their increasing dementia presents a threat to their well-being. I'm happy that their son has involved VNA and the Council on Aging. Surely those folks will start to see some of the same behaviors you're seeing and let their children know. I think you can decide how involved you want to be (if you want to stay involved at all), but whatever you decide, don't feel guilty - you've already been an incredible blessing in the lives of this couple and their children!

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