My 95 year old father asked me to take him to the bank to make some adjustments to his accounts. I was his executor. We had a loving, wonderful relationship. He trusted me with all aspects of his care. We sat in front of the banker as I began to explain why we were there. My father suddenly began to shout “I don’t want to do any of that, why did you bring me here? I didn’t give you permission for that.” The banker coldly stared at me as did other people in the bank. He told me it was obvious he could not do what I was asking. I was waiting for him to call the police. It was quite clear he thought I was trying to commit fraud. It was a humiliating, frustrating, and confusing moment for me. I quickly stood up and escorted my dad out of the bank. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
We often hear about people trying to take financial advantage of seniors or others that are dependent on your care. These stories frequently make there way to the public arena. Another phenomena that does occur but is not often publicly addressed is when innocent caregivers are accused of stealing and committing fraudulent activities.
Why are false accusations made? The accusations may come from the person being cared for. Perhaps, as in my dad’s case, cognitive and memory deficits caused him to forget what he had asked me to do. These scenarios are not uncommon with people suffering from dementia.
The accuser may not want to have a caregiver. They may believe that if false accusations are made regarding a caregiver a family member or other healthcare professional will step in and intercede to remove them. They may be struggling with their own issues related to their loss of independence caused by medical problems. It may be a bid to get control of their environment and lives back. They may mistakenly believe they can safely function independently.
Sometimes a jealous family member may make a false accusation regarding abuse or theft about a caregiver to get them removed from their job. They may be jealous of a warm caregiver relationship or concerned about their loved one financially rewarding a wonderful caregiver. They view this as a potential loss to financial assets they believe belong to them.
It feels awful when you are on the receiving end of accusations or hate filled words that are associated with wrongful charges. What are your options? Here are some suggestions on what you can do:
- Don’t Engage-If the accuser is the person you are caring for take a breath. Don’t try to argue. I simply told my dad I was sorry our trip to the bank upset him. I remained calm outside. Initially inside my emotions were swirling like a tornado. I emotionally divorced myself from the accusations he made. I reminded myself that his poor memory was the cause of the situation and knew that he really loved and trusted me. He forgot about it the next day and things were back to normal for him and I followed his lead.
- Redirect and Distract-If you are taking care of someone with dementia or other cognitive issues try to change the subject as quickly as you can. What do you want for lunch? Shall we watch a movie, take a walk. Do what you can to distract them and move on to something else. Try to change the environment. It helps them move on and refocus on something new.
- Identify an item they focus on as a target. If someone is obsessed with losing a wallet and they do lose it have several wallets that look like it around the home. This helps reassure them that they are safely put away and are accessible.
- Carefully document-If you do have a caregiver arrangement where you help with paying bills or finances it is important to document all transactions you are asked to do. Try to include key family members in a discussion about the arrangement you have. Agree to produce copies of bills, receipts, and records in a timely way so there is no confusion about where or how money is being spent. This can help offset potential problems with other family members.
- Alert a supervisor or other family member-If you do work for an agency discuss concerns about potential false accusations with a supervisor so they can be proactively addressed. Identify another family member or person in the caregiving circle you can go to to discuss your fears about this type of situation. Let them know you are eager to solve it and want to co-operate since you have done nothing inappropriate. You can share how distressing this is for you and you want to find a resolution as quickly as possible.
- Legal Support-In a worse case scenario if false accusations continue to occur you may want to consider getting legal advice about how to protect yourself. Remember false accusations do not mean you are guilty and will be charged. There must be proof of intent and the commission of a crime. If you have done nothing wrong false charges will be hard to prove. Do what you need to protect yourself.
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