Why Should I Care About Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse is an under recognized problem with devastating and evenlife threatening consequences.

Every day, headlines throughout the U.S. paint a grim picture of seniors who have been abused, neglected, and exploited, often by people they trust the most. Abusers may be spouses, family members, personal acquaintances, or professionals in positions of trust; or opportunistic strangers who prey on the vulnerable.

How big is the problem? No one really knows. Relatively few cases are identified, as elders often are reluctant to report the mistreatment. Experts estimate that only one in five cases or fewer are reported, which means that very few seniors who have been abused get the help they need.

One thing is for certain: elder abuse can happen to any older individual – your neighbor, your loved one – it can even happen to you.

What Is Elder Abuse?

According to Montana law, elder abuse is the infliction of physical or mental injury; or (b) the deprivation of food, shelter, clothing, or services necessary to maintain the physical or mental health of an older person or a person with a developmental disability without lawful authority.  Montana Code Annotated §52-3-801).

Who Is at Risk?

Elder abuse can occur anywhere – in the home, in nursing homes, or other institutions. It affects seniors across all socio-economic groups, cultures, and races. Based on available information, women and “older” elders are more likely to be victimized. Dementia is a significant risk factor. Mental health and substance abuse issues – of both abusers and victims – are risk factors. Isolation can also contribute to risk.

Warning Signs

Physical Abuse – Slap marks, unexplained bruises, most pressure marks, and certain types of burns or blisters, such as cigarette burns.

Neglect – Pressure ulcers, filth, lack of medical care, malnutrition or dehydration.

Emotional Abuse – Withdrawal from normal activities, unexplained changes in alertness, or other unusual behavioral changes.

Sexual Abuse – Bruises around the breasts or genital area and unexplained sexually transmitted diseases.

Financial Abuse/Exploitation – Sudden change in finances and accounts, altered wills and trusts, unusual bank withdrawals, checks written as “loans” or “gifts,” and loss of property.

Learn more about the issue – Visit the National Center on Elder Abusewebsite at www.ncea.aoa.gov.

What Should I Do if I Suspect Elder Abuse?

Report Your Concerns.
Remember: Most cases of elder
abuse go undetected. Don’t assume that someone has already reported a suspicious situation.

To report suspected abuse in Billings and the surrounding area contact Prevention of Elder Abuse at 406.896.9696.

If you or someone you know is in a life threatening situation or immediate danger, contact 911 or the local police or sheriff.

Who Must Report?

Under Montana law, certain professionals and others such as healthcare workers, law enforcement, personal care attendants etc., are required to report suspected instances of abuse, neglect or exploitation of elders and disabled persons to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.  In addition to these reporters, the law provides that any other persons or entities may submit a report.

The report can be made orally or in writing, by telephone  in person, or anonymously. The Department, through their Adult Protective Services division, is required to then investigate those reports.

What Can I Do to Prevent Elder Abuse?

Report suspected mistreatment to your local adult protective services agency or law enforcement. Although a situation may have already been investigated, if you believe circumstances are getting worse, continue to speak out.

Keep in contact – Talk with your older friends, neighbors, and relatives. Maintaining communication will help decrease isolation, a risk factor for mistreatment. It will also give them a chance to talk about any problems they may be experiencing.

Be aware of the possibility of abuse – Look around and take note of what may be happening with your older neighbors and acquaintances. Do they seem lately to be withdrawn, nervous, fearful, sad, or anxious, especially around certain people, when they have not seemed so in the past?

Volunteer – There are many local opportunities to become involved in programs that provide assistance and support for seniors.

Remember: You do not need to prove that abuse is occurring; it is up to the professionals to investigate the suspicions