National Center on Elder Abuse Administration on Aging

Elder Abuse?


Dear Tracey,

Thank you for your wonderful column. My wife and I read it every week and always learn from it. Here’s my problem:

I only have two elderly relatives, who live in another state. They’ve never been outgoing and I have not been close with them as adults. I’ve sent cards and letters and left messages over the years but they were never returned. Recently I received a phone call out of the blue from my 84-year-old cousin Darlene, a widow. Every few years she calls for 3-5 minutes and then says she has to hang up. This time she said her uncontrollable mentally ill adult daughter moved in with her. I asked about Darlene’s sister Marilyn who is 78 and lives with her husband and their adult son, who is in recovery from drugs. Darlene said she has not seen Marilyn in two years. They live in the same town. She was told last month by the son that Marilyn is no longer accepting calls from anyone, even her sister.

Tracey, I can hardly believe I am saying this but I suspect there could be elder abuse here. The son could be isolating his parents but I can’t be there to know. Should I call Adult Protective Services? These two sisters and their families have always lived on the fringe and been dysfunctional, but this seems very odd to me. I don’t want to make a big fuss over nothing. Do you think I should get involved? If I make a report will my name be revealed? Or is it none of my business?

Thanks for any advice.

Distant but Related

Dear Reader,

Thank you for your thoughtful letter regarding a very difficult subject. I’m grateful that, in spite of the physical and emotional distance you have with these family members, compassion hasn’t failed you.

The incidents of elder abuse are staggering. According to Elder Justice Now, an organization dedicated to fighting elder abuse, one out of every nine Americans over the age of sixty has experienced some form of abuse. What’s even more alarming? It’s estimated that for every case of elder abuse reported, at least five go unreported.

To you, and anyone else who suspects elder abuse, I say trust your instincts! Often our logical brain jumps into the mix and legitimate feelings are rationalized away. Many worry, as you do, that it is none of their  business. Others fear that if they report their suspicions, their loved one will suffer retaliation by the abuser. The victims themselves, most already isolated and many limited, and/or disabled by age, question whether their stories will even be believed.

Naturally, what to do is daunting, especially considering these unique circumstances you have described. But help is just a phone call or computer search away.

For those who might be facing an immediate crisis, dial 911. Most states and counties also have Hotline numbers.

If the danger is not immediate, contact The National Center on Elder Abuse at or 1-800-677-1116. Directed by the U.S. Administration on Aging, NCEA is an organization dedicated “to helping national, state, and local partners in the field be fully prepared to ensure that older Americans will live with dignity, integrity, independence, and without abuse, neglect, and exploitation.” Their web site is full of helpful information, resources, and phone numbers for every state in the nation.

You can also call your local Adult Protective Services directly and report your concerns. You do not have to have absolute proof of elder abuse and all calls are confidential.

When you call, have the following information ready: the elder’s name, address, contact information, and the reasons why you suspect abuse. You may also be asked for additional information, such as  the elder’s medical history; whether there are previous incidents of abuse, and  what specifically you have witnessed or suspect.

If you are a victim of elder abuse, please, please talk to someone you trust. Elder abuse is a crime. There are sensitive, well-trained professionals available to help you. Don’t believe what your abuser is telling you. You know what you are experiencing and I know that you richly deserve a life free from abuse.

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