In July, I drove some 2500 miles, from Pennsylvania to Arizona, to begin an exciting sabbatical opportunity. I enjoy this drive (especially since I tend to do it fairly rarely, perhaps once every seven years). I frequently visit friends along the way, and this summer I was struck by how many friends had saved up tough elder law stories for me.
A theme emerged from their stories. They would tell me, "I have an aging friend (or sometimes a family member or neighbor) who is in serious danger of physical or financial harm, but refuses to cooperate with reasonable plans to solve the problems. What are my options to help this person I care about?"
In one instance, it seemed clear the at-risk individual was affected by some level of cognitive impairment. But how to know for sure? Was the refusal to cooperate with a "better plan" the product of a sound, if somewhat eccentric mind? A neurocognitive assessment seemed warranted. We tried to arrange one. But the earliest appointment available was more than 60 days away and the potential for harm was immediate.
Thus, it was with great interest I read a preview of an article in the upcoming issue of the ABA publication, Bifocal. Professors Marshall Kapp, Shenifa Taite and Gregory Turner outline "Six Situations in Which Elder Law Attorneys and Physicians Caring for Older Patients Need Each Other." They are writing about a critical need for Medical-Legal Partnerships designed specifically to assist older persons and their family members. For example, on the topic of "self-neglect," the authors explain:
Mistreatment of older persons by others is a serious problem. Both the medical and legal conundrums became more complicated, and thus even more amenable to interprofessional collaboration, when self-neglect is entailed. A significant percentage of older adults, mainly living alone, do not regularly attend to their own needs or well-being regarding health care, hygiene, nutrition, and other matters. The majority of cases reported to APS agencies by health and social service professionals and family members are triggered by suspected self-neglect. The health care system expends considerable efforts trying to intervene in these situations to prevent increased rates of hospitalization, nursing home placement, and even death.
In situations involving suspected elder self-neglect, the physician’s role is vital in recognizing the potential problem, characterizing the nature and seriousness of the risk posed, and trying to identify clinically and socially viable intervention strategies. Among other concerns, decisional capacity issues almost always arise in these cases. The physician may look to an attorney for advice about legal reporting requirements or options, as well as the legal boundaries within which interventions may be designed and implemented in a manner that best respects the older person’s dignity and autonomy while protecting the vulnerable at-risk individual from undue foreseeable, preventable self-generated harm.
A growing number of law schools (including Penn State's Dickinson Law) have established Medical-Legal Partnership Clinics, where the collaborative relationship between attorneys and physicians is established in advance of need by clients. Often such clinics focus on younger clients, especially children. Elder-specific services are an important subset of the services that can be provided in a timely and professional setting. For more, read the full Bifocal article published in the-August 2016 issue -- and ask whether such services are available in your community.
August 15, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management | Permalink
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