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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Please remind your readers that elderly people who live alone can be vulnerable to "caregivers" who take over their lives -- and bank accounts.

I attended the funeral of a neighbor I'll call "John" who was starved and neglected while his live-in "caregiver" took seven to 10 vacations a year. She was gone all day and many nights. She left him sandwiches and liquid nutritional supplements in place of meals, and phone numbers to call if he got sick.

Well, he did get sick, several times, but was too proud to call for help. During the last two months of his life, he was often confused. He died of congestive heart failure from a cold left untreated. The caregiver blamed his death on "fumes" from urine-soaked carpet because John's two elderly dogs weren't housebroken. The truth is, John was too sick to open the patio door, and the caregiver was never there to let the dogs out or clean the carpets.

John changed his will to make the caregiver the trustee and bought her a new car. She is allowed to live in his house until it is sold, and she is selling off the contents of the house. I know for a fact that John and his late wife wanted their sizable estate to go to their elderly brothers and sisters and the county humane society. Their estate is being plundered.

Regrettably, no one intervened on John's behalf. Too late, I learned that every state has an agency on aging and an ombudsman program that will investigate reports of neglect and mistreatment of the elderly.

Friends and neighbors of the elderly living alone must be proactive and contact family or the state if something "doesn't look right." -- NEIGHBOR IN SARASOTA, FLA.

DEAR NEIGHBOR: Yours is a chilling letter. I hope it will spare similar heartbreak to other elderly who are living without benefit of family nearby.

Readers, if you suspect neglect or mistreatment of an elderly neighbor or friend, contact the adult protective services agency in your area. Anyone entrusted with the care of the aging should be carefully screened. The same agency should be able to assist you in locating properly trained and reliable caregivers.

DEAR ABBY: An old friend of ours mentioned that she was coming to town and needed a place to stay. We invited her to spend the night at our home. She and her husband own a buffalo ranch. She asked us if we would like to taste some buffalo sausage and we said, "Sure."

When she arrived, she was carrying a small package of frozen buffalo sausage and her recent wedding video. After a nice dinner and viewing the video, we gave her a wedding gift that we had recently purchased in Greece.

Now, here is the odd part: My wife and I had to leave the next morning for work. We left our guest a key to lock the door when she left. When we returned from work that evening, we noticed a note on our kitchen counter. We thought it would be a "thank you" for the previous evening. Instead, it was a bill for the buffalo sausage! There was no mention of our hospitality or the wedding gift.

Of course we will pay the bill, but enclosed with our check will be a bill for her night's lodging and dinner. Abby, what do you think? -- BUFFALOED IN ST. PAUL

DEAR BUFFALOED: I think your friend left her manners back at the ranch. Forget sending her a bill. When you sign the check for the buffalo sausage, write this woman off as well.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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