Elder Abuse Awareness

Jun 12, 2014

Good evening.  I’m Susan Kohler, CEO of Missoula Aging Services, the Area Agency on Aging for Missoula and Ravalli counties.  Tonight I want to raise the unpleasant but important topic of elder abuse in recognition that June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. I hope to increase your awareness of this growing “silent epidemic” and suggest ways we can all help stop its spread.

Elder abuse refers to intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver, trusted individual or stranger that harm an older adult.  While it includes physical abuse, other forms of elder abuse can be emotional, psychological and sexual abuse; financial and material exploitation; and neglect or self-neglect.

Elder abuse cuts across racial, religious, ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, geographic and gender lines.  Worse yet, many older adults don’t even realize it is happening to them.  With the rapid aging of America, the incidence of abuse is increasing.

In Montana, Adult Protective Services, or APS, investigates allegations of abuse toward people over the age of 60 or adults with developmental disabilities age 18 or older.  Workers across our state looked into 6,291 reported cases of elder abuse last year.  Actual instances are undoubtedly higher, since abuse cases tend to be severely under-reported.

Often undetected are instances of abuse by someone who has durable power of attorney, or DPA, for an older adult. Let me share a couple examples. 

The first is a recent case that was filed in Thompson Falls.  A family member contacted the Mineral County Sheriff’s office, concerned that her 84-year-old brother was being exploited.  An Adult Protective Services case worker visited the man’s home and found he had untreated skin cancers and only peanut butter and milk in the house to eat. As a result of the investigation, Mineral County prosecutors charged another man with bilking the elderly man with dementia out of thousands of dollars and obtaining ownership of the man's Superior-area ranch and other property. This person had used his power of attorney to take money from the elder’s bank accounts and transfer ownership of the ranch to himself.

Another example involves a family member who had durable power of attorney over her mother’s financial matters. 

Helen was 85 and ailing when she made a durable power of attorney naming her daughter Susan as her agent. Two weeks later Susan used this DPA to sell Helen’s home, and placed the sale proceeds into bank accounts that were in Helen’s name. Within a year Susan had used her authority under Helen’s DPA to withdraw all the money from these accounts to support her lavish lifestyle and failing business. When Helen discovered the money was gone, she contacted the local law enforcement agency but was told that her only option was the civil justice system. Helen could not afford a civil lawyer and the local free legal services program was not able to help her. The adult protective services agency told Helen they were not able to recover her money either.  Helen lost hope and died six weeks later.

As these examples illustrate, an older adult needs help from adult protective services and civil or criminal justice systems to stop abuse by a person who has misused DPA. But victims can get shuffled from one system to another and not get that help.    

Unfortunately, I could cite other horrific stories, but I hope I have made my point. Exploitation and other forms of elder abuse must stop. No one ever deserves to be treated like this in their life, let alone in their later years.

To help stop elder abuse we must become aware of it, know its signs and report it.  Some signs to watch for are:

- Unpaid bills when someone else has been designated to make payments

- Excessively large reimbursements or “gifts” to caregivers or friends

- New authorized signers on a person’s bank account

- Bank statements or canceled checks no longer coming to the person’s home

- Unfamiliar signatures on checks and other documents

- Lack of personal amenities such as clean clothing and grooming items

-Social isolation or restriction of activities of the older adult by a caregiver

-Dirt, fecal/urine smell or other health and safety hazards in the individual’s living environment

- Malnourishment or dehydration

- Untreated medical conditions, rash, sores or bruises

If you suspect any form of abuse, call 1-800-551-3191 to reach your local Area Agency on Aging.  They can refer you to adult protective services nearest you to submit a report, which can be done anonymously.  If you believe an older adult is in imminent danger, call 911.

This is , CEO of Missoula Aging Services.  As always thanks for listening.