Minding Our Elders: Mom fires caregiver who stole her watch — but she hasn’t worn a watch for decades

Dear Carol: My mother’s healthy, but at 93, she needs someone to stop in daily to arrange her medications, give her a bath and do other routine tasks. I live 200 miles away and try to visit weekly. We’ve hired three care agencies but my mother’s fired them all.

Finally, we contacted a woman who is a bit older and she and Mom hit it off. I thought that we were on the road to a quieter time, but yesterday Mom called me and told me that the woman stole her watch, so she fired her. The caregiver contacted me and we discussed the problem. Since Mom hasn’t worn a watch for decades, I wasn’t concerned that stealing was the issue. We decided that the caregiver should just go to Mom the next day and see what happened. Mom acted happy to see her and seemed unaware that she’d fired this woman. The caregiver understands, but I’m afraid that she won’t come back if Mom fires her again. What can I do to make this arrangement work? — PR

Dear PR: I’m sorry that you’ve got to deal with this because it’s a big emotional challenge. As you indicated, most likely your mom mentally slid back in time and was looking for a watch from long ago. Since she couldn’t find it, she thinks that it’s been stolen and the caregiver is the only person who is there to blame.

I need to be clear that stealing does happen, so caregivers must listen to their older adult and evaluate the story, but so often what is “stolen” is similar to your situation and there’s little concern about the accused person’s honesty.

For now, I’d sit back and wait. If your mom has another episode, consider talking with her about seeing her doctor regarding something that won’t upset her, such as a medication renewal. You could then alert the physician ahead of time by writing a short letter where you lay out the issue. This gives the physician some guidance for what is needed from this appointment.

If the doctor doesn’t find something that’s reversible, such as medication side effects or an infection, you could ask your mom if her goal is to stay in her home or if she’d prefer assisted living. Her answer may give you some insight into how she’s thinking. She may feel afraid if she’s alone too much, so a community setting could be of benefit.

If she’s adamant about staying home and she still complains about her current caregiver, tell the caregiver that you trust her and you want her to keep coming back each time as though nothing’s happened. Offer bountiful praise for this hardship and thank her for her patience.

An approach that you could take with your mom is to tell her when she complains that you’ll look for someone else, but meanwhile this is the person who will be coming. This phase should pass with time.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carolbradleybursack@mindingourelders.com.