Love or Elder Exploitation? Concerns about Later Life Romances

We’ve been sharing a lot of “food for thought” about romance and companionship in later life, leading up to our movie screening of The Age of Love. While we advocate for the need for a variety of relationships throughout the lifespan, we know families sometimes face concerns about an aging parent’s romantic relationship. So, today we will address questions such as:

How do you know when your concerns are legitimate?

What red flags indicate a relationship could be exploitative?

What can you do when you feel your aging parent is being exploited?

Elder Exploitation or Love?

A key issue here is the issue of consent. If your parent is a consenting adult (you may need a professional assessment when the person has memory loss/dementia issues), he/she may have the right to make not-so-great decisions when it comes to relationships.

However, much like issues of sexual harassment in the workplace, balance of power and influence can make this issue more complicated. For example, if your loved one becomes involved in a relationship with a caregiver (or the partner takes over management of the household and care of the person), would your aging parent feel comfortable breaking off the relationship? Does the elder feel trapped or threatened? Has the partner made hints about being needed or what might happen if he/she is not around anymore?

Check out our Aging Wisely “Caregiver Concerns” handout, which provides some good warning signs related to caregivers and undue influence (not just related to romantic relationships). These types of issues are covered in training and coaching with our EasyLiving caregivers, to help caregivers create good boundaries and prevent problems.

love or elder exploitation?

Red Flags and Preventative Protection

Sometimes it might be hard to know the answers to these questions (especially when the partner did not start out as a caregiver). It helps to keep in touch and try to keep the lines of communication open. Keeping the elder’s circle of support intact can reduce undue influence, help others spot warning signs and give the elder comfort in speaking out about his/her own concerns.

This is another reason why it’s valuable to establish long-term relationships not only with a social circle, but with professionals. If your aging parent has a long-term financial advisor, attorney, C.P.A., physician or other valued professionals, they know your loved one’s personality and patterns and can spot drastic changes. They can be allies in protecting your parent. When you have a professional home health company like EasyLiving involved you get extra layers of protection and accountable management to assist you.

Another big red flag is isolation. Is your loved one cutting back on seeing or talking to you? Does the new partner insist on being involved in everything/not allow you to be alone with your loved one? Reducing isolation is helpful as a preventative measure and also a good indicator when things change dramatically.

What can you do when you’re worried about your aging parent’s romantic relationship?

  • Talk to him/her honestly. Consider your approach beforehand and be sensitive to how your words may be construed. You might want to consult with one of our care managers about this approach.
  • Stay involved. Try to maintain a relationship and talk often. This can mitigate the influence one person has and help your loved one to open up to you.
  • Try to get to know the new partner. You have a better chance to evaluate the relationship/person and stay involved in your loved one’s life.
  • Talk to the home care company if the relationship in question is with his/her caregiver. If you’re feeling a little uneasy about things you are seeing or hearing, they can help monitor and provide coaching/training for the caregiver about boundaries. They can also take action and help you determine the best course if a romantic attachment has already formed. It can be natural for an elder to form an attachment to a caregiver who is involved in his/her daily life so this issue may come up even when the caregiver has not done anything inappropriate to encourage it. Don’t hesitate to bring it up to the company; it’s much easier to address proactively.
  • Get an evaluation early on if you have concerns. It’s easier to do this before a person yields too much influence or has isolated your loved one. This may need to be done with some subtlety (telling your Dad, “we want to evaluate your girlfriend’s intentions” isn’t going to work!).
  • Reach out to protective services if you spot signs of abuse, neglect or elder exploitation. In Florida, the phone # is 1-800-96ABUSE (962-2873). It helps if you can provide specific information about what you have seen or heard. It may also be helpful to start with an evaluation as mentioned above.

All this month, we’ve been covering romance, intimacy, relationship concerns and more here and on our Aging Wisely blog. Our exclusive The Age of Love premier is a great opportunity to spark these discussions. Please make plans to join us on February 27th for this enjoyable, thought-provoking movie (RSVP to 727-447-5845…free for our friends and colleagues)!