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Nationally Renowned Expert to Speak at AARP-Sponsored Elder Abuse Conference

In its ongoing efforts to fight the growing problem elder abuse in the state, AARP Montana is partnering with Big Sky Senior Services to present an elder abuse prevention conference on May 25 in Billings. Headlining the event is nationally-renowned aging policy expert Bob Blancato.

Blancato was appointed by former President Bill Clinton as the Executive Director of the White House Conference on Aging in 1995. He later spearheaded the successful efforts to pass the Elder Justice Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010. He is currently the National Coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition, a bi-partisan, 650 member organization working to promote elder justice in the United States.

Under the theme “Tools to Protect: Confronting Elder Exploitation” the all-day conference will explore the extent of the problem in Montana and the tools available to protect victims of elder abuse.

“Our aging population is growing, and with that, so are the incidents of elder abuse and neglect,” said Joy Bruck, AARP Montana State President. “As a society, we must take action to put an end these terrible injustices against the elderly, or the problem will continue to get worse. Our seniors have the right to live out their lives in a safe environment with access to the best care possible, and that is why AARP Montana is working to fight elder abuse on several fronts.”

In addition to sponsoring the Elder Abuse Conference, AARP Montana supported legislation this year to strengthen Montana’s financial exploitation laws by adopting the essential protections of the Uniform Power of Attorney Act. Current Montana law lacks adequate consumer protections with respect to financial Powers of Attorney. The Power of Attorney has become a commonly used, inexpensive, valuable tool for advanced planning – allowing a person to designate someone to handle their financial affairs.

Unfortunately, under Montana law, the Power of Attorney has also been labeled as the “power to steal”. Montana Adult Protective Services reports that the vast majority of elder financial abuse cases involve Power of Attorney abuse. The AARP-backed measure proposes to strengthen Montana Power of Attorney Laws so that seniors are better protected.

The issue of elder abuse has been in the national spotlight recently when Mickey Rooney testified before the Senate Committee on Aging in a first-ever hearing about his own personal experience as a victim of elder abuse. The goal of the Senate hearing was to draw attention to this widely underreported problem and coordinate federal, state and local efforts to combat it.

The American Psychological Association estimates that 2.1 million older Americans become victims of abuse each year. But research shows that elder abuse is significantly under-reported and under-identified. As few as 1 in 6 cases of elder abuse come to the attention of authorities, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse.

In addition, elders throughout the United States lose an estimated $2.6 billion or more annually due to financial abuse and exploitation, funds that could have been used to pay for basic needs such as housing, food, medicine and medical care. Unfortunately, no one is immune to abuse, neglect, and exploitation. It occurs in every demographic, and can happen to anyone. Yet it is estimated that only about one in five of these financial crimes are ever reported. These crimes include identity theft, fake check scams, wire transfer scams and securities fraud.

According to the latest research conducted by AARP Montana – Voices of 50+ Montana: Dreams and Challenges – Montanans age 50+ are worried about consumer financial issues. Seventy percent of respondents are worried about protecting themselves from identity theft and 59 percent are worried about protecting themselves from unfair or deceptive financial practices.

“Our seniors are among our most vulnerable citizens, and it is critical that we protect them,” said Bruck. “The awareness and community involvement promoted by this conference are critical ways to reduce the financial, physical and emotional abuse of the elderly, who make up about 14.6 percent of Montana’s population.”

In addition to Blancato, speakers at the conference include Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock; Rick Bartos, Bureau Chief, Montana Adult Protective Services; Scott Twito, Yellowstone County Attorney; Margaret Gallagher, Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney; Diane Cabrera, Crow Tribal Prosecutor. Presenters will provide detailed information and answer questions on a variety of elder abuse and protection issues including neglect, physical and psychological aspects of elder abuse, financial scams, safety issues, in-home care options, trends in fraud committed against the elderly and specific Montana cases prosecuted by state and local authorities.

Reservations for the May 25 conference, “Tools to Protect: Confronting Elder Exploitation” are required by May 11 and can be made by calling Big Sky Senior Services at (406) 259-3111. The event, which is located at 1801 Majestic Lane in Billings and runs from 8 am to 4 pm, is open to the public and costs $20 which includes lunch. Keynote Speaker, Bob Blancato, joins an impressive lineup of presenters and panelists. Find complete conference agenda online.

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