Elder Abuse

The following is a case of an abused senior. Joyce is an 84-year-old woman who was married for 52 years. She has three children and lives with her son. Her husband is deceased but was a prominent attorney. The family presents an ideal picture of an upper-middle-class family. They live in a fashionable suburb.

The son has been successful to the extent that he has been made a full partner in his late father’s large law firm. The family is very active in church, the country club, and various other social organizations. Joyce was an active member of several charitable, civic, and social groups, but has not been seen in public for the past several months.

Joyce’s initial call to the crisis center was vague and guarded. She expressed an interest in inquiring for “another woman” in regard to the purpose of the center. After she had received information and an invitation to call back, a number of weeks elapsed. Joyce’s second call occurred after receiving a warning to be hospitalized from her son. This is a segment of that conversation.

Crisis Worker (CW): (Answering phone.) Crisis center. May I help you?

Joyce: I feel terrible calling you so many times, but I need help right away. (Sobbing.)

Crisis Worker: OK! Tell me what happened.

Joyce: Well, last night he told me he is going to put me in the hospital. I thought he was really going to take me over there right then. He seemed so frustrated, but it has been building up for the past few weeks. I guess it was my fault . . . I complained about being alone at night. He started raising his voice at me. He said I have to get on with my life. I got up and went into the bathroom. (Wracked with sobs for more than a minute. CW waits.) I’m sorry, I just can’t seem to keep control. Lewis has been dead for seven months, but I can’t stop crying.

If you were the crisis counselor on the phone with Joyce, what would you do? What factors would you attend to when assessing this situation and the client’s mental and emotional state? How would her age be relevant in your assessment and intervention process? What are three interventions you would use on the phone and what recommendations would you make for follow-up? Who might you consult with regarding this situation? What might you do differently if the client was Chinese or from Puerto Rico?