Friday, October 9, 2015

Conference to focus on growing need, challenges for guardians for elderly Montanans

BILLINGS -- With Montana's population aging rapidly — a quarter will be 65 years or older by 2030, making it the fifth oldest state in the U.S. — the need for services for that population is growing as well.

Big Sky Senior Services will host the Navigating the Challenges of Guardianships conference Oct. 22 in Billings in an effort to educate professionals and the community on issues like guardianships and conservatorships, living wills and power of attorney, and dementia and capacity issues.

"What we hope to accomplish is to help people gain a better understanding of what’s involved in a guardianship and a conservatorship," said Denise Armstrong, executive director of Big Sky Senior Services.

A guardianship is a legal relationship that allows one person, often a family member or other close acquaintance, to make decisions for another relating mostly to medical and personal issues, while a conservator manages mainly property and financial affairs, Armstrong said. In both cases, a doctor must first sign off that a person doesn't have the capacity to make those decisions on their own.

Big Sky Senior Services is a Billings-based group working to enhance the quality of senior citizens' lives and prevent elder abuse. It also runs various related programs and operates the state's only guardianship council.

The all-day conference is geared toward professionals — such as medical personnel, law enforcement officials or attorneys — who may deal with such matters on the job for the first half, followed by lunch and afternoon sessions focusing more on family members and others who are or could be guardians, as well as senior citizens.

"Our main goal, really, is to prevent elder abuse," said Val Young, Big Sky Senior Service's training and outreach coordinator.

It will include breakdowns of various roles and titles and how those relationships work, information on potential frauds and scams and a keynote lunchtime presentation on how to start a successful statewide guardianship program from Diana Noel, senior legislative representative for the AARP in Washington, D.C.

"We’re working with a legislative interim committee to get some kind of state guardianship program established," Armstrong.

Montana does not currently have state standards for guardianship services or training for court officials and guardians and advocates are working with the Children, Families, Health and Human Services Interim Committee to study the issue and could eventually develop new legislation.

Getting those standards in place and educating both the public and professionals are key steps in preventing people from taking advantage of senior citizens who need help and ensuring they get necessary care, Armstrong said.

"With this aging population we have in the state, every day we hear more and more stories," she said. 

"There's so much potential for financial exploitation and even elder abuse. We want to take this out to a bigger level. The more prepared we are and more proactive we can be on this, the better off we'll be."

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Conference to focus on growing need, challenges for guardians for elderly Montanans

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