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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My parents are both in their 80s, and I try to stay in touch with them as often as possible. Unfortunately, one issue I cannot get through to them is when to call 911 for help. Example: If Mom trips and falls, Dad needs to call 911 rather than struggle to help her up. One or both of them could be injured due to lack of strength or ability.

Also, if a stranger rings their doorbell or calls on the phone and asks them questions about checking accounts, etc., this person should be reported.

How do I impress upon my parents the need to contact the authorities when something is amiss rather than attempt to handle it themselves? -- ART IN EASTON, PA.

DEAR ART: Trying to parent one's parents long distance can be frustrating and emotionally draining. Part of the problem may be that when people in their golden years begin to slow down, they often don't realize that it's happening.

Please impress upon your father that when your mother falls there may be a reason for it that goes beyond being "clumsy." She may have suffered a small stroke or have an inner ear imbalance and need to be seen by a doctor. Also, when older people fall they can crack a bone, and being lifted by someone other than a professional can cause further injury.

These days there are more "sharks" swimming around out there than ever, poised to take advantage of the gullible and the vulnerable. If you suspect that someone has been asking your parents for information about their personal finances, the police should be informed. Also, if you feel they need protection, then it's time to involve a social worker to help them. Your local Area Agency on Aging or state department of health can guide you.

DEAR ABBY: Many years ago I made a conscious and deliberate decision to leave the dating scene. Whenever I tell a woman I'm not interested or have made other plans, she becomes upset and angry with me. I try to be tactful and diplomatic with women, but it invariably results in acrimonious behavior toward me. I am exasperated with the situation. What's your advice? -- NICE GUY IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR NICE GUY: Of course when a woman hears that you're "not interested" she will be offended. A compliment it's not! And a woman who becomes upset and angry if you say you have other plans isn't someone you would want to be involved with anyway. Next time try this: "I'm sorry, but I'm NOT AVAILABLE." It's the truth -- you're not!

DEAR ABBY: This may seem like a silly question, but what is the proper thing to do if fruit drops on the floor at the grocery store? -- WONDERING IN COLUMBUS, GA.

DEAR WONDERING: There is no such thing as a silly question. I addressed your query to the manager of a major grocery chain in the Los Angeles area. He said: "Because it is assumed that people wash their fruit at home before eating it, the fallen item should simply be placed on its stand. (Of course, if it has split in two, cracked or been crushed, you should bring it to the attention of an employee working the produce department.)"

Now: Speaking as someone who has bought fruit, taken it home and found it to be bruised when I cut into it, it's my PERSONAL opinion that instead of replacing the fruit in the display, a store employee should be informed so the item can be sold at a discount the next day.

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