Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Don't ignore grandma's grief
By Patti Carmalt-Vener 06/04/2009

Dear Patti,

My husband and I recently moved into the area and we just love it. Because we’re semi-retired, we’re frequently home in the middle of the day when most of our neighbors are working. We barely know anyone in the neighborhood yet and don’t want to be labeled as troublemakers, but we have witnessed something that we’re both uncomfortable with.
Our neighbors, who live across the street and one house down from us, have an elderly grandmother who lives with them. We’ve heard that the couple has another family member taking care of her while they’re working. A couple of weeks ago we saw the caregiver yelling loudly and harshly at this frail-looking old lady who didn’t say anything back; she just looked down at the sidewalk and kept walking very slowly. Two days ago, while I was gone, my husband witnessed a similar incident. He thought the elderly lady looked sad and he wants to do something. It’s not that I disagree, but we never saw this individual call names, threaten, shove or hit the grandmother, and we didn’t see any bruises on her, so I don’t want to overreact. If I heard a nanny yell at a child I don’t know that I’d call it child abuse, so I’m just a little unsure what is elder abuse and when it’s appropriate to do something. We wanted your opinion on how to handle this.

—Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith,

If you suspect this elderly grandmother is being mistreated or spoken to in a way that causes her emotional pain or distress, you should immediately contact the Adult Protective Services hotline at (877) 477-3646 and let them professionally investigate. When you talk to the social worker, give your concerns in detail, telling exactly what you witnessed regarding actions of the companion and reactions of the senior. You can make the report anonymously or, if you so choose — and I know it may be difficult — you can explain to your neighbors that you made the report out of loving concern for their family and their grandmother. While they may be upset because you didn’t just talk to them about what you observed, abuse against elders is often subtle and the distinction between normal interpersonal stress and abuse isn’t always easy to discern. It may sound extreme, but I think your only choice in this situation is to make sure that if a problem exists it won’t be ignored.

As elders become more physically frail, they’re less able to stand up to bullying or intimidation. They may not see, hear or think as clearly as they used to, leaving them vulnerable to financial exploitation, sexual abuse, abandonment, neglect and emotional trauma. The demands of their mental and physical problems can be overwhelming and frustrating for those in charge of their daily care, especially when the caretakers haven’t had proper training and are unskilled at how to take care of their own needs as well the person they’re responsible for.

Elder abuse is never an acceptable response to any situation. No matter how difficult and dependent, the elderly need to be free from harm by those who care for them.

Every year an estimated 2.1 million older Americans are victims of physical and psychological abuse and neglect. You’re not being a busybody neighbor by speaking up and protecting someone who may possibly be unable to defend herself. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s the responsibility of all of us to protect those who can’t protect themselves.

Please don’t hesitate or put off doing the right thing.

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park.

Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or


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