The caregiver-patient relationship is often a close one. When a senior or a person with a disability must rely on someone else for daily assistance, it’s easy to understand how strong bonds can develop. But what happens when a patient’s feelings for their caregiver go beyond friendship? Believe it or not, this situation can happen.
Mental health professionals refer to this as transference. It can occur with caregivers of any kind, including physicians, nurses, and care aides. For older adults who have lost a spouse or other close loved one, the personal attention can feel like more than professional support. Patients may mistake this care and compassion for romantic love.
If your senior loved one has fallen in love with one of their caregivers, we have some suggestions for helping you figure out how to navigate this delicate situation.
What to Do If You Fear a Patient is Falling in Love with their Caregiver
First, don’t overreact. When a senior is isolated and alone on top of not feeling well, it’s easy to understand how a situation like this might occur. Unless you are fearful that the caregiver is taking advantage of them, there is no reason to panic and confront the older adult.
Here are several productive steps you can take:
- Increase family contact: When the days are busy, family members might not realize how much time has gone by since they last visited a senior loved one. Some families find it helpful to use a scheduling app like Lotsa Helping Hands to ensure a family member has visitors on a regular basis. This app also allows you to schedule meals and help with errands and household tasks.
- Explore social opportunities: If your family member is able, getting out in the community to interact with peers will also help. Some senior centers and adult day programs offer transportation. Call your local agency on aging to ask what options are available for your loved one.
- Video chat services: While it’s not the same as visiting in person, video chat services allow for face-to-face communication. For example, Skype can be set up on a tablet device. This makes it quick and easy for your senior loved one to access the program and interact with family members.
- Alternate caregivers: Most agencies have the ability to alternate caregivers and gradually phase out the aide a loved one seems too attached to. It might be the simplest way to handle a delicate situation.
- Seek professional advice: If you just aren’t sure how to help move forward, and don’t want to risk your senior experiencing a broken heart at such a fragile time, talk to a mental health professional for advice. Use your zip code to search for a geriatric psychiatrist online at the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation.
Finding a Caregiver You Can Trust
Protecting a vulnerable senior from financial scams and other crimes includes cautiously screening anyone who comes to their home to provide care. At Griswold, we have a proprietary program for doing just that. We call it our CareAssure Screening System. This comprehensive background check and screening process allows us to evaluate each caregiver candidate for compassion, identity, integrity, and competence.