Is this elder abuse?

Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri,

My sister has been taking care of my mother for nine years. My mother is 93, but she’s walking everyday and was talking with me on the phone once in awhile until last year.

My mom had a knee and hip replacement a decade ago. My sister moved her into her apartment and was supposed to sell the house.

I understood that and agreed she should. She said she also wanted the money from the sale of the house to put Mom in an assisted living facility.

We both picked out the facility together. I live in a different state. While I was visiting recently, I learned my sister talks about what a “pain in the neck Mom is,” and what a “complainer” Mom is and how she’s a big “baby” now.

I also found out that no one but my sister visits Mom. I went to visit her the next day and Mom was the same sweet and elegant lady she’s always been, except that she was very sad to lose her home that she and my dad lived in all their lives.

Turns out my sister moved into Mom’s home. She redecorated it and bought new furniture. She has complete legal control over my mom’s money.

Mom said she yells and curses at her and Mom can’t spend any money on anything. My sister doesn’t allow Mom to go anywhere or do anything that costs money. She can’t even take a knitting class because she can’t buy yarn.

Mom takes all of the abuse and says she understands it’s a burden for my sister to take care of her.

Mom’s caretakers told me that she’s depressed.

I feel guilty that I’ve been so busy with my work and family that I haven’t taken notice of how bad this situation is.

What options do I have?

A neglectful son

Dear Son,
Fortunately, you’ve recognized the severity of your mom’s situation and you are willing to take responsibility in helping her.

Unfortunately, your mom has taken on the victim’s role with shame by accepting the validity of your sister’s accusations. Because it’s her daughter, she may be unwilling to “get her into trouble” or she may be living in fear of retaliation.

Elder abuse is, in many respects, just like any form of mistreatment that results in harm or loss to a person. This can be in the form of physical harm, sexual abuse, verbal or emotional abuse, and neglect.

However, with elder abuse, there is the added significance of financial mistreatment. You need to address the situation directly with your sister. Although we can’t predict how your sister may react, chances are that she’ll resent you as an intruder to her caretaking and become defensive.

Communicate with management of the facility first.

Be prepared to contact a long-term care ombudsman. Each state has an ombudsman program, which resolves complaints and advocates on behalf of residents and the quality of their care.

You may also contact the National Adult Protective Services Association.

Plus, you have federal and state laws that have been enacted called the Elder Justice Act of 2009.

If your sister is unwilling to cooperate in changing your mom’s conditions, we give you the same advice we give all cases of abuse and bullying: report, report, report. Your mom deserves dignity and a chance to choose not to be a victim.

Her vulnerability is in your capable hands. Please help her to recover her confidence and courage to define her worth.

Rhonda and Dr. Cheri