What if a neighbor had picked up the phone and alerted authorities that 84-year-old Edna was allegedly abusing her 86-year-old sister, Mary? Would the older sister, an Alzheimer's-disease victim, be alive today? We'll never know. But a warning call might have averted a tragedy.

In March, one woman was charged with beating her sister to death with a sponge mop in the West Los Angeles house the two shared. She pleaded innocent and was released into her son's custody.In the wake of the scandal, at least five neighbors came forth to recount incidents in which they allegedly saw the one woman slap, push and berate her frail sibling. Had any of them reported the abuse to authorities, a social worker would have been dispatched to the home to investigate. "(But) the administrators extensively checked our records, and there is no file related to those sisters," a department spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times.

Most of us are tempted to shut our eyes when we see others in trouble. We don't want to get involved.

Today, most states offer elder-abuse prevention programs. If you suspect an older person is being physically, emotionally or financially mistreated, all you need do is make an anonymous report to the police or adult protective-services department. Trained professionals will do the rest.

QUESTION: I'm a 68-year-old widower. Three years after my wife's death, I decided it was time to start doing something I hadn't done for 40 years: date. Over the past few months, I've taken out three attractive, intelligent women. What's floored me is that, unlike myself, none of them is looking for a marriage partner. If I didn't know differently, I'd swear they were of a younger generation. Am I old-fashioned?

ANSWER: No more so than most middle-aged and older newcomers to the singles scene. Like you, many widowers and divorcees re-enter the dating game hoping to find a lifetime mate. Often they assume their new friends share similar expectations, and some do.

But others are in no rush to tie the knot. According to one study, although these men and women may enter into a long-term relationship, they prefer to keep it open-ended, frequently because marriage would mean giving up newfound independence.

Today's social climate is generally more permissive than it was in the 1940s. Older singles may find this unsettling and require time to adjust. Be patient. Remember that most people feel self-conscious on a first or second date. Likewise, we all bring expectations to new relationships. If these are too rigid or idealistic, they can interfere with what otherwise might be an enjoyable experience.

While there's no guarantee that you'll meet Ms. Right on the first, fifth or even 50th time out, if you maintain a sense of adventure, you may discover special friends.

QUESTION: My brother and I are concerned about our parents. They are in their 70s, live in a rural community in Tennessee and get their medications by mail. They both see two physicians and, when they visit us, we sometimes have them see a physician at a local university hospital.

I'm not sure we or they understand the physician's instructions or purpose of each medication they are prescribed. What can we do to help them before something happens?

ANSWER: The American Association of Retired Persons has for a long time run the largest mail-order pharmacy service in the country. For a $5 membership fee, members can take advantage of AARP's nonprofit pharmacy program. As with all such programs, what's missing is face-to-face communication with a pharmacist. This, coupled with the fact that many people don't completely understand their conditions or the physician's instructions, can lead to problems.

Recently, AARP published a new "Prescription Drug Handbook." Comprehensive and easy to understand, it provides an overview of medical conditions and discusses causes, diagnoses and treatment. Following this are drug profiles. The book is an excellent layman's guide to drugs, just as the "Physician's Desk Reference" is a standard volume on almost all physicians' desks.

While there is no guarantee that the book alone will help your parents manage their medications, it may provide valuable information. The book is available from Scott, Foresman and Co., AARP Books, 1865 Miner St., Des Plaines, Ill. 60016. Enclose $13.95 ($9.95 for AARP members, include membership number) plus $1.75 for shipping.