Brooke Astor married into one of America's wealthiest families, donated millions of dollars to support the arts and protect the poor and the elderly. But it is her protection and health that are now at the center of a fierce family legal battle.
Her grandson Philip Marshall claims the 104-year-old is living in filth, as his father, Anthony Marshall, has ignored her health and enriched himself with millions.
The Astors made their wealth in the fur trade and real estate, but Philip Marshall claims his grandmother is now sleeping on a couch that smells of dog urine, wearing nightgowns so frayed that nurses have turned them inside out.
"Nurses have asked for money to buy nonskid socks, so she wouldn't slip. How much can socks cost, $5 to $10? They were denied. They used their own money to buy the socks," said Helen Peterson of the New York Daily News.
If true, the allegations would be a terrible irony for a woman who spoke of her own generosity during a 1993 interview with Barbara Walters, saying, "The money was made in New York City. I wanted to give it all back to New York City."
Warning of Widespread Abuse?
Anthony Marshall said the allegations against him are completely untrue. But while the case is playing out on New York's famed Park Avenue, elder care experts say it is not unlike millions of others across this country.
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, up to 2 million Americans aged 65 and older are victims of abuse or neglect. Experts say that in 60 percent of those cases, the abuser is a family member.
"They're behind closed doors, they're in their own apartments, they're in their own homes, and not a lot people know what's going on," said Sara Aravanis, director of the National Center on Elder Abuse.
What concerns authorities most is that over the next 30 years, the number of seniors will more than double to include 72 million Americans.
"We need to be alert to family caregivers becoming frustrated, becoming burned out," said Gail Gibson of the National Alliance for Caregiving.
And experts now say the socialite known for giving millions may have given another gift by casting a spotlight on what could soon become an epidemic of neglect.