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by Abigail Van Buren

Neighbor Takes Advantage of Trusting Elderly Woman

DEAR ABBY: My elderly mother lives in a rural area. Luckily, she is surrounded by wonderful neighbors who enable her to continue living in her home without assistance. They shop for her, maintain her lawn, do handyman repairs, cook for her and regularly check on her well-being.

Unfortunately, after being discharged from a recent hospital stay, Mama discovered that one of her "trusted" neighbors has been using her credit card to pay their utilities. She is heartsick. She has taken the necessary steps to cancel the credit card, but now is conflicted about the best way to handle such a sensitive issue.

Abby, is there a way for everyone to save face in this situation? -- LOVE THY NEIGHBOR

DEAR L.T.N.: I hope you realize that what you have described is more than an embarrassment. It is elder abuse and fraud.

With one glaring exception, your mother's neighbors are angels. However, they have shouldered a responsibility -- seeing that your mother is cared for -- that really belongs to your family. If you cannot personally see to it that she gets the help she needs to live independently, you should contact your state's Area Agency on Aging or Department of Social Services and arrange for someone who is bonded to do it.

A social worker can help your mother report this matter to the police in a way that she will not be embarrassed and that may help her recover the funds that were stolen.