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We have to act together to stop abuse of older Montanans. June 15 is Elder Abuse Awareness Day, a perfect time to focus on how we can stop this all too common, unconscionable crime.

This problem needs all citizens’ attention because we share in the responsibility to help protect the elderly. In 2017, Adult Protective Services (“APS”) received over 7,000 calls for services; 811 were for some type of abuse, 2,380 were neglect and 1,098 were financial exploitation. Elder abuse includes many things, including neglect, isolation, financial exploitation, and physical, psychological/emotional or sexual abuse. We can act together by being aware of the problems and learning ways to prevent them.

Knowing the signs of the various forms of abuse is key to stopping it. Neglect is the most common. It includes lack of basic hygiene, food, medical aids and clean, appropriate clothing. It includes leaving a person with dementia unsupervised or a bed-bound person without care or with untreated bedsores. Neglect includes making a person live in a home that is filthy, in disrepair, or lacking in basic necessities (such as electricity or running water).

Emotional and psychological abuse covers various activities, such as yelling at, and threatening, harassing or intimidating a person into doing something they have the right not to do. It’s also preventing someone from doing something they have the right to do. Signs are when a caregiver isolates someone, not allowing others to talk with or see the person. It includes if a caregiver is controlling, uncaring, overly concerned about spending money, or verbally aggressive or demeaning.

Physical abuse is when someone causes physical harm to another. Key signs are when fractures, bruises, welts, cuts, sores or burns are not adequately explained.

Sexual abuse includes not only unwanted sexual comments or actions, but also doing these actions when the other person is not able to understand what is happening.

Financial exploitation is harder to detect than other forms of abuse. It includes misuse of funds or property by another person. This includes stealing property to use or sell, using a person’s identity to get credit cards, misusing a person’s funds and using a person's private history or medical condition for personal gain.

Signs of financial exploitation include when an elder “voluntarily” gives inappropriate financial reimbursement for care or companionship and when a caregiver is living off the elder. It includes when the elder signs legal documents, like a new will or power of attorney, but is unable to comprehend the transaction. It also includes a caregiver who controls an elder’s money but fails to adequately provide for the elder’s needs. Signs include an unusual volume of banking activity, especially if inconsistent with usual habits. Signs also include suspicious signatures on financial documents and checks, spending or sudden increases in debt the person is unaware of. A last indicator is when bank statements or canceled checks are no longer sent to the elder’s home.

Everyone can act to help stop these problems. If you are concerned about an elder’s welfare, speak privately with them about your concerns. If necessary, ask the person to speak with the police. If you have photographic or other evidence supporting your concerns, provide this to law enforcement or APS.

If you believe the elder is in danger, contact law enforcement immediately. If you suspect someone is being abused or mistreated and it is not life threatening, call APS at 1-844-277-9300.

We have to work together to strengthen protections for elder abuse victims and prevent these crimes from occurring so all Montanans can live with dignity and independence as we age.

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Kimberly Dudik is a candidate for Montana attorney general. She was a registered nurse prior to her 16-year legal career, and represents House District 94 in the Montana Legislature.

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