Types of mistreatment to seniors

The role of Montezuma County Department of Social Services' Adult Protective Services (APS) program is to stop and prevent the mistreatment and self-neglect of at-risk adults. Mistreatment and self-neglect of an at-risk adult is a serious matter. At-risk adults are 18 years old or older and vulnerable to abuse, neglect, or exploitation because they cannot obtain services necessary for their health, safety, or welfare, or because they lack the understanding or ability to make or communicate responsible decisions. Conditions that may affect an adult's ability to take care of themselves include dementia, Alzheimer's disease, medical conditions, being frail and elderly, developmental disabilities, or severe physical disabilities.

Self-neglect is the most common report received by APS. There are a wide range of situations that may be considered self-neglect. Some of the most common self-neglect reports involve older adults with dementia or Alzheimer's disease who are no longer able to care for themselves, manage their own medication, prepare meals, shop for groceries, manage money, clean their homes, or access healthcare services. Other situations may involve at-risk adults with developmental disabilities, physical disabilities, or medical conditions that interfere with the adult's ability to manage their own health, safety, and welfare.

Signs of self-neglect include dangerous or unhealthy living conditions; lack of food; no heat, electricity, or water; untreated medical conditions, and poor personal hygiene. Reporting self-neglect is important because the at-risk adult is often unlikely or unable to ask for help. The at-risk adult may also be fearful of losing their independence or moving into an assisted living facility or a nursing home. APS works closely with these at-risk adults to help them arrange services necessary for their safety while helping them keep as much independence as possible. It is important to understand that at-risk adults have the right to live their life as they see fit, as long as they are not breaking any laws. APS cannot make an at-risk adult accept services without the at-risk adult's permission unless a court has determined that the adult is no longer able to make decisions.

Mistreatment is when another person's actions threaten the health, safety, or welfare of an at-risk adult. It is also when another person's actions put the adult in a situation that poses a risk of death or serious bodily injury. Mistreatment includes caregiver neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and financial and other forms of exploitation.

Caregiver neglect happens when the person who is responsible for the care of an at-risk adult does not provide enough physical care, health care, medication, food, shelter, or other necessities to an at-risk adult. The caregiver may be a spouse or other family member, a home health provider, a nursing home staff member, or any other person with a legal responsibility to provide care to a person.

Physical abuse is what many people think of when referring to mistreatment. Physical abuse includes hitting, slapping, pushing, kicking, burning, and confining or restraining an adult against their will. Sexual abuse is any sexual contact or conduct that takes place without the adult's permission or understanding. Sexual abuse is a form of mistreatment that can both humiliate and seriously injure an at-risk adult.

Financial exploitation is using an at-risk adult's money or property without the adult's permission. Basically, the suspected exploiter is stealing from the at-risk adult. Signs of financial exploitation include unpaid monthly bills, bounced checks, missing income, unusual transfers of assets or property, and being denied access to accounts. Other forms of exploitation involve exploiting the at-risk adult by making them do things they wouldn't usually do, such as forcing a frail at-risk adult to panhandle or using the at-risk adult's home for the production or distribution of illegal drugs.

If you suspect mistreatment or self-neglect, it's okay to speak up. You should immediately report the situation to the Montezuma County Department of Social Services at 564-4110. Ask to speak to Adult Protection. If calling about an emergency situation during non-business hours, contact law enforcement at 565-8441 to make the report.

All reports are confidential and can be made anonymously. However, it is helpful to APS if you provide your contact information so APS can contact you, if needed.

If you have additional questions about reporting to APS, call Montezuma Department of Social Services.

Warning Signs of Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation:

S udden changes in behavior, finances, or lifestyle

P hysical injuries, dehydration, or malnourishment

E xtreme withdrawal, depression, or anxiety

A bsence of basic care or necessities

K ept away from others

U nsanitary living conditions

P ersonal items or money missing

Holly Bock is the Montezuma County Adult Protection Caseworker. She can be reached at 565-4110.

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