Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Integrating Criminal Justice Standards with Professional Conduct Rules for Attorneys Representing Clients with a Mental Health Disability

During the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Bar Association that concluded on August 9 in San Francisco, the ABA adopted "the black letter of the ABA Standards for Criminal Justice: Criminal Justice Mental Health Standards, chapter seven of the ABA Standards for Criminal Justice, dated August 2016, to supplant the Third Edition (August 1984) of the ABA Criminal Justice Mental Health Standards." 

Here is a link to the Full Resolution

Here is a link to further details and a report: Proposed resolution and report

Significantly, the revised ABA standard expressly requires criminal defense lawyers to consider the implications of ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.14 (for representation of a client with diminished capacity), in determining whether, when and how much information can be shared about the client's disability with family members or others during the course of representation.  My initial reaction is this integration of the two concepts may actually broaden the defense attorney's authority to share information, rather than restrict it.  

Any thoughts among our readers? My special thanks to my colleague Professor Laurel Terry at Dickinson Law, guru of all matters related to professional conduct rules for attorneys and judges, for sharing the revised standard. 

August 10, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Does Use of "Alzheimer's" as a Catch-all Label Cause Confusion?

Recently, a friend who is a neuropsychologist reminded me that the medical profession is moving away from using either dementia or Alzheimer's as a broad category label.  For example, in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly referred to as the DSM followed by a number that indicates the edition, the current edition (DSM-5) replaced the label "Dementia, Delirium, Amnestic and Other Cognitive Disorders" with "Neurocognitive Disorders" or NCDs.  As we talked, it occurred to me that this is an important change, and one that legal professionals should also embrace more strongly.  While short-hand labels can be useful, I think that using dementia alone as a label can invoke a stereotype that has the potential to confuse the public, while also unnecessarily frightening the client or client's family.  It can invoke an image of nursing homes or institutionalization, rather than what may be more appropriate, such as supported or guided decision-making or use of alternative decision-makers or agents, especially in early stages of the disorders.

As the DSM-5 further explains:

Although cognitive deficits are present in many if not all mental disorders (e.g., schizophrenia, bipolar disorders), only disorders whose core features are cognitive are included in the NCD category.  The NCDs are those in which impaired cognition has not been present since birth or very early life, and thus presents a decline from a previously attained level of functioning.

 

The NCDs are unique among DSM-5 categories in that these are syndromes for which the underlying pathology, and frequently the etiology as well, can potentially be determined.  The various underlying disease entities have all been the subject of extensive research, clinical experience, and expert consensus on diagnostic criteria.... Dementia is subsumed under the newly named entity major neurocognitive disorder, although  the term dementia is not precluded from use in the etiological subtypes in which the term is standard. Furthermore, DSM-5 recognizes a less severe level of cognitive impairment, mild neurocognitive disorder, which can also be a focus of care....

Indeed, greater appreciation for mild neurocognitive disorders is important in legal circles, as the changes may often be subtle or difficult to recognize, but still very important when talking about legal capacity or decision-making under the law.  

August 9, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Aging with Special Needs

Disability Scoop ran an article recently focusing on aging issues faced by those with special needs. Aging Poses New Challenges For Those With Special Needs explains the issues that will occur as individuals with special needs age, and need different or additional services.  "In 1983, the average life expectancy for a person with Down syndrome was 25. Today, it’s 65 to 70, fueled largely by the mastery of a surgical procedure that corrects a heart defect present in 1 out of 2 people with Down syndrome ...."  Of course, there are challenges to be overcome, including increasing services and bringing health care providers up to speed. "As the first generation of individuals with disabilities reaches ages not seen before, the medical community is still catching up. Most skilled nursing facilities are still made up of residents without disabilities, so people with disabilities may be better suited to an environment where caregivers are accustomed to taking their special needs into account." 

The article highlights the need to be forward-thinking and planning ahead.  Not everyone ages the same way at the same speed.  The article focuses on how a person with Downs syndrome might experience aging issues. The "interest in caring for people with disabilities who are aging has been of such concern that the [National Down Syndrome Society] compiled an “Aging and Down Syndrome” guide in 2013. Since then, the guide has been requested tens of thousands of times, in both English and Spanish ...."

August 9, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Which "Breakthrough" Will Prove to be the Real Miracle Needed to Prevent or Cure Alzheimer's?

I've been writing for the Elder Law Prof Blog for almost exactly three years, and it has been a wonderful way to keep up with the vast array of topics that affect "law and aging," Blogging has broadened my horizons, especially with respect to medicine and science.  At first I would get excited about each new announcement of a potential drug or treatment that "might" cure Alzheimer's.

Over time, you learn to be more, shall we say, judicious in reporting on the report of cures.

Australian researchers announced last year that they "have come up with a non-invasive ultrasound technology that clears the brain of neurotoxic amyloid plaques - structures that are responsible for memory loss and a decline in cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients." Their preliminary work is with mice:

Publishing in Science Translational Medicine, the team describes the technique as using a particular type of ultrasound called a focused therapeutic ultrasound, which non-invasively beams sound waves into the brain tissue. By oscillating super-fast, these sound waves are able to gently open up the blood-brain barrier, which is a layer that protects the brain against bacteria, and stimulate the brain’s microglial cells to activate. Microglila cells are basically waste-removal cells, so they’re able to clear out the toxic beta-amyloid clumps that are responsible for the worst symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

 

The team reports fully restoring the memory function of 75 percent of the mice they tested it on, with zero damage to the surrounding brain tissue. They found that the treated mice displayed improved performance in three memory tasks - a maze, a test to get them to recognise new objects, and one to get them to remember the places they should avoid.

 

"We’re extremely excited by this innovation of treating Alzheimer’s without using drug therapeutics," one of the team, Jürgen Götz, said in a press release. "The word ‘breakthrough’ is often misused, but in this case I think this really does fundamentally change our understanding of how to treat this disease, and I foresee a great future for this approach."

What has happened since the first news "alert," published in March 2015?   Perhaps one of our readers knows the latest on this particular approach, and can bring more light to bear on this breakthrough.  For more, read,  Science Alert: "New Alzheimer's Treatment Fully Restores Memory Function."  Special  thanks to GW Law Professor Naomi Cahn for bringing this item  to our attention.

August 8, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Tackling the Issue of "Avoidable Deaths" in Long-term Care Settings

Pennsylvania attorney Douglas Roeder, who often served as a visiting attorney for my former Elder Protection Clinic, shared with us a detailed Penn Live news article on what the investigative team of writers term "avoidable deaths" in nursing homes and similar care settings.  The article begins vividly, with an example from Doylestown in southeastern Pennsylvania:

Claudia Whittaker arrived to find her 92-year-old father still at the bottom of the nursing home's front steps. He was covered by a tarp and surrounded by police tape, but the sight of one of his slim ankles erased any hope it wasn't him.  DeWitt Whittaker, a former World War II flight engineer, had dementia and was known to wander. As a result, his care plan required him to be belted into his wheelchair and watched at all times. Early on Sept. 16, 2015, Whittaker somehow got outside the Golden Living home in Doylestown and rolled down the steps to his death.

 

"It wasn't the steps that killed him. But the inattention of staff and their failure to keep him safe," his daughter said.

The article is especially critical of recent data coming from for-profit nursing homes in Pennsylvania, pointing to inadequate staffing as a key factor:

In general, according to PennLive's analysis, Pennsylvania's lowest-rated nursing homes are for-profit facilities. Half of the state's 371 for-profit homes have a one-star or two-star rating – twice the rate of its 299 non-profit nursing homes.  The reason for that discrepancy, experts say, isn't complicated: Studies have found that for-profit nursing homes are more likely to cut corners on staffing to maximize profit.

Spokespeople from both the for-profit and nonprofit segments of  the industry are quoted in the article and they push back against the investigators' conclusions.  

I have to say from my own family experience that while adequate staffing in care settings is extraordinarily important, older residents, even with advanced dementia, often have very strong opinions about what they prefer.   My father is in a no restraint dementia-care setting, with a small cottage ("greenhouse") concept and lots of programming and behavioral interventions employed in order to avoid even the mildest of restraints. It was a deliberate choice by the family and my dad walks a lot around the campus and has his favorite benches in sunny spots. 

The trade-off for "no restraints" can be higher risk.  Residents, including my father, are sometimes stunningly adept at escape from carefully designed "safety"plans, such as those necessary in the summer heat of Arizona. Family members often remain essential members of the care team.  For example, this summer I plan my daily visits at the very hottest part of the day, in order to help try to lure my father, a late-in-life sunshine worshiper, back into the cool.  I watch the staff members exhaust themselves intervening with other ambulatory and wheelchair residents who are constantly on the move.

None of this "care stuff" is easy, but certainly the Penn Live article paints a strong picture for why better staffing, better financial resources, and more reality-based plans are necessary.  For more, read "Failing the Frail." Our thanks to Doug for sharing this good article. 

August 3, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, Property Management | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 1, 2016

New Scholarship: Can Adults, including Older Adults, Give Advance Consent to Sexual Relations?

As some readers may recall, last year we reported on the emotionally fraught criminal trial in Iowa for a former state legislator, who was ultimately acquitted of sexual assault of his wife.  The allegations arose in the context of alleged sexual relations with his wife after she was admitted to a nursing home.  

Assistant Professor of Law Alexander A. Boni-Saenz, from Chicago Kent College of Law, has drawn upon this case and others to further explore his proposals for "advance directives" whereby adults could specify their decisions in advance of incapacity.  Alex's latest article, Sexual Advance Directives, forthcoming in the Alabama Law Review, is available on SSRN here.   From the abstract:

Can one consent to sex in advance? Scholars have neglected the temporal dimension of sexual consent, and this theoretical gap has significant practical implications. With the aging of the population, more and more people will be living for extended periods of time with cognitive impairments that deprive them of the legal capacity to consent to sex. However, they may still manifest sexual desire, so consenting prospectively to sex in this context serves several purposes. These include protecting long-term sexual partners from prosecution by the state, ensuring sexually fulfilled lives for their future disabled selves, or preserving important sexual identities or relationships. The law currently provides a device for prospective decision-making in the face of incapacity: the advance directive.

 

The central claim of this article is that the law should recognize sexual advance directives. In other words, people facing both chronic conditions that threaten their legal capacity to make decisions and institutional care that threatens sexual self-determination should be able to consent prospectively to sex or empower an agent to make decisions about sex on their behalf. To justify this claim, the Article introduces a novel theory of sexual consent—the consensus of consents—that diffuses the longstanding philosophical debates over whether advance directives should be legally enforceable. With this normative foundation, the Article then draws on insights from criminal law, fiduciary law, and the law of wills to fashion a workable regime of sexual advance directives that adequately protects individuals from the risk of sexual abuse. 

Alex is a thoughtful writer on challenging topics, often looking at the intersection of health care, estate law and elder law planning.

August 1, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Are Certain Professionals, including Lawyers, Less at Risk for Cognitive Decline?

The Washington Post published an interesting article reporting on the recent Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Toronto.  According to the article, 

Two studies looked at how complex work and social engagement counteract the effects of unhealthy diet and cerebrovascular disease on cognition. One found that while a “Western” diet (characterized by red and processed meats, white bread, potatoes, pre-packaged foods, and sweets) is associated with cognitive decline, people who ate such food could offset the negative effects and experienced less cognitive decline if they also had a mentally stimulating lifestyle.

 

Occupations that afforded the highest levels of protections included lawyer, teacher, social worker, engineer and doctor; the fewest protections were seen among people who held jobs such as laborer, cashier, grocery shelf stocker, and machine operator.

 

“You can never totally forget about the importance of a good diet, but in terms of your risk of dementia, you are better able to accommodate some of the brain damage that is associated with consuming this kind of (unhealthy) diet,” said Matthew Parrott, a post-doctoral fellow at the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, who presented the study.

 

In another study, researchers found that people with increased white matter hyperintensities (WMHs) – white spots that appear on brain scans and are commonly associated with Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline – were able to better tolerate WMH-related damage if they worked primarily with other people rather than with things or data.

For more of the intriguing findings, read "Complex Jobs and Social Ties Appear to Help Ward Off Alzheimer's, New Research Shows."  

 

July 26, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Health Care/Long Term Care, Retirement, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 18, 2016

Coach Pat Summitt

We were all saddened at the news of  Coach Pat Summit's death from early-onset Alzheimer's at the age of 64.  I found this article in the Washington Post  so moving that I wanted to share it with you. You should read it and encourage your students to read it as well.  Pat Summitt’s last great gift was sharing her fight with Alzheimer’s is more than just a tribute to Coach Summitt. It's also a call-out on how we treat people with cognitive decline and how we need to improve our actions.  Here's an excerpt from the article:

Pat was just one of four people I know with dementia, and from what I’ve seen, across the board, Alzheimer’s care is a national scandal in our midst, yet few are willing to address it, because it’s just too distressing.

When a friend or family member is diagnosed, this is what you quickly learn: Once-brilliant people who still have vast reserves of brain cells are discounted, forced into retirement, and many are warehoused in facilities where the food is patently awful and the most meaningful activity is bingo. And we wonder why they decline so swiftly. Their care is infantilizing and schedule-oriented, with full-grown adults fed at 6 and forced to bed at 8, and when they can’t communicate as they used to we lack the imagination to try to find other ways to reach them, so their pain or discomfort often goes unaddressed, leading to interactions that, as Stettinius says, “exhaust, frustrate, and deplete everyone involved.” Creative new forms of care that can enhance quality of life — art, poetry, music and animal therapies for Alzheimer’s patients — are the rare exception. Ignorance about the disease is the rule. We give lip service to preserving dignity but devote precious little thought to the fact that the quickest way to rob someone of that dignity is to tell them what time to go to bed.

Use this in class for a discussion on how to support an individual's autonomy and how we can do better for people with Alzheimer's.

 

July 18, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Will Mandatory Retirement Come to the Medical Profession?

Modern Healthcare ran an article that got me thinking about whether we will see mandatory retirement being applied to the certain doctors. More hospitals screen aging surgeons to make sure their skills are still sharp was published on June 11, 2016. The article starts with relating the story of  one facility and a 79 year old surgeon returning to work after some health problems. The facility had concerns but the article notes, "[t]hey had few tools at their disposal, though. Hospital policy limited interventions to clinicians who had made medical mistakes. [The surgeon] had never had an adverse event with a patient under his care." The chief of surgery at this hospital suggested a program from "Maryland that provides cognitive and physical examinations for aging surgeons."

We all know that conversations with someone about their diminished abilities are very difficult to have. The article offers a nod to that. Everyone is living longer, even doctors, and  longevity along with "[a]dvances in medicine, personal wellness and public health, along with the desire to preserve a sense of purpose and their lifelong identity, have led many to work well beyond traditional retirement age."  Some facilities are developing policies to evaluate their continued practice of medicine, "policies that require clinicians of a certain age to undergo physical, cognitive and clinical testing. Those programs have been met with ire by career practitioners, who argue that age is just a number. Doctors—no matter what their age—already must renew their medical licenses at regular intervals with state medical boards."  Critics note that renewals of licenses don't test "for age-related cognitive and physical decline that could harm the quality of care provided to patients." (does this debate sound familiar to anyone?)

The article then moves into a discussion of the ADEA and mandatory retirement and whether mandatory retirement should be applied to doctors. The American Medical Association (AMA) issued a report in 2015 on age-related declines with clinicians and is working on the beginnings of "research opportunities to inform preliminary guidelines for assessing senior and late-career physicians." This year the American College of Surgeons (ACS) "recommended that surgical specialists undergo voluntary and confidential baseline physical examinations at regular intervals starting between ages 65 and 70."

The article notes that some health care facilities have instituted their own requirements. "The policies vary in terms of the ages at which clinicians begin screening and what the exams require. Some call for clinicians to complete clinical skill and physical health screening every couple of years. Others require a more controversial cognitive test, which the AMA is leery of supporting." There is no uniformity yet with these programs. As far as the doctor at the beginning of the article? He did go through a program and passed. The surgeon "did recently decide to shift some of his responsibilities and now spends more time on training and education with another physician taking the role of chief of vascular surgery.  [The surgeon] also became an advocate who encourages his colleagues to consider it."

July 5, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Retirement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Good News on the Alzheimer's Front?

Two recent articles made me think that progress is being made in the fight against Alzheimer's.  First I ran into an article in the Chicago Tribune on May 25, 2016 from a Harvard Health Blog postDecline in Dementia Rate Offers 'Cautious Hope' details a recent report from the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), Incidence of Dementia over Three Decades in the Framingham Heart Study which we blogged about on February 23, 2016. After discussing the study and its results, the article turns to the question of whether dementia can be prevented:

As the Alzheimer's Association predicts, the numbers of people with dementia may ultimately increase simply because people are living longer. At the same time, the Framingham researchers offer "cautious hope that some cases of dementia may be prevented or at least delayed."

The Framingham results bolster the notion that what's good for the heart is good for the head. If you're pursuing a heart-healthy lifestyle -- following a Mediterranean-style diet, getting the equivalent of 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, managing your stress, and engaging with friends and family -- you're likely lowering your risk of dementia in the bargain, too.

The other article also ran on May 25, 2016, this one in the New York Times.  It posits an intriguing question: Could Alzheimer’s Stem From Infections? It Makes Sense, Experts SayThe article references a recent study by Harvard researchers,  Amyloid-β peptide protects against microbial infection in mouse and worm models of Alzheimer’s disease the results of which was published in Science Translational Medicine. The abstract is available here but the full article requires registration.

Here is how the study results are explained in the Times article

The Harvard researchers report a scenario seemingly out of science fiction. A virus, fungus or bacterium gets into the brain, passing through a membrane — the blood-brain barrier — that becomes leaky as people age. The brain’s defense system rushes in to stop the invader by making a sticky cage out of proteins, called beta amyloid. The microbe, like a fly in a spider web, becomes trapped in the cage and dies. What is left behind is the cage — a plaque that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s.

The article provides a fascinating recap of how the researchers got to this point and notes that "[r]ecent data suggests that the incidence of dementia is decreasing. It could be because of better control of blood pressure and cholesterol levels, staving off ministrokes that can cause dementia. But could a decline in infections also be part of the picture?" The article concludes describing the next steps in this research.

So, good news on the Alzheimer's front? You decide. (I vote yes).

June 22, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

New Concepts from Authorities Who Investigate and Prosecute Scammers and Financial Abusers

On June 15,  I logged into the National Consumer Law Center's webinar on Financial Frauds and Scams Against Elders.  It was very good.  Both David Kirkman, who is with the Consumer Protection Division for North Carolina Department of Justice, and Naomi Karp, who is with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, had the latest information on scamming trends, enforcement issues, and best practices to avoid financial exploitation.  Here were some of the "take away" messages I heard:

  • "Age 78" -- why might that be important?  Apparently many of the organized scammers, such as the off-shore sweepstakes and lottery scams, know that by the time the average consumer reaches the age 78, there a significant chance that the consumer will have cognitive changes that make him or her more susceptible to the scammer's "pitch."  As David explained, based on 5 years of enforcement data from North Carolina, "mild cognitive impairment"  creates the "happy hunting ground" for the scammer.
  • "I make 'em feel like they are Somebody again."  That's how one scammer explained and rationalized his approach to older adults.  By offering them that chance to make "the deal," to invest in theoretically profitable ventures, to be engaged in important financial transactions, he's making them feel important once again.  That "reaction" by the older  consumer also complicates efforts to terminate the scamming relationship. David played a brief excerpt of an interview with an older woman, who once confronted with the reality of a so-called Jamaican sweepstakes lottery, seemed to make a firm promise "not to send any more money."  Yet, three days later, she sent off another $800, and lost a total of some $92k to the scammers in two years.
  • "Psychological reactives."   That's what David described as a phenomenon that can occur where the victim of the scam continues to play into the scam because the scammer is offering the victim praise and validation, while a family member or law enforcement official trying to dissuade the victim from continuing with the scam makes him or her feel "at fault" or "foolish."   An indirect, oblique approach may be necessary to help the victim understand.  One strategy to offset the unhelpful psychological reaction was to show the victim how he or she may help others to avoid serious financial losses. 
  • "Financial Institutions are increasingly part of the solution."  According to Naomi, about half of all states now mandate reporting of suspected financial abuse, either by making banks and credit unions mandatory reporters or  by making "all individuals" who suspect such fraud mandatory reporters.  Both David and Naomi said they are starting to see real results from mandatory reporters who have helped to thwart fraudsters and thereby have prevented additional losses.

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has several publications that offer educational materials to targeted audiences about financial abuse.  One example was the CFPB's 44-page manual for assisted living and nursing facilities, titled "Protecting Residents from Financial Exploitation." 

June 21, 2016 in Books, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (2)

Estate Planning Lessons from the Redstone Saga?

We've previously blogged about the happenings in the case and life of Sumner Redstone. Although one lawsuit was dismissed, it doesn't appear that is the end of the matter. The New York Times ran an article on June 2, 2016, In Sumner Redstone Affair, His Decline Upends Estate Planning. Although the focus of the story is Mr. Redstone's situation, the story notes that this happens perhaps more than we think.

As Americans live longer and more families are forced to cope with common late-in-life issues like dementia, the problem is getting worse. “It’s a huge issue nationally as the elderly population grows and their minds start to falter,” [one attorney interviewed for the story] said. “I’ve seen charities coming after people for multiple gifts: Sometimes these donors don’t remember that they already gave the previous week. Romantic partners, caregivers who take advantage of the elderly — we’re seeing it all.”

Elderly people may be especially susceptible to the influence of people who happen to be around them during their waning days.

Professor David English (full disclosure, co-author and friend) "a professor of trusts and estates at the University of Missouri School of Law and former chairman of the American Bar Association’s commission on law and aging" said

This is an issue for lots of people of even modest wealth... [and] the most common approach is the creation of a trust, either revocable (which means it can later be changed) or irrevocable, that anticipates such a problem and defines what the creator of the trust means by incapacity. This could be a much less rigorous standard than is typically applied by courts... The document should define the meaning of incapacity and, more importantly, indicate who determines incapacity....

The article goes on to examine the importance of trusts that are carefully well-drafted to address issues such as those faced in this case.  However, "sometimes no amount of legal advice can save people from an unwillingness to face their own mortality and cede control while still in full control of their faculties."

June 21, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Health Care/Long Term Care, Property Management | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Bifocal: Examining Less Restrictive Alternatives to Guardianships

The ABA's Bifocal publication includes a new resource guide designed to help lawyers identify and help to implement decision-making options for persons with disabilities that are less restrictive than guardianships.  

The "PRACTICAL Tool," with the first word intended to serve as an acronym for nine steps that a lawyer can use to identify legal and practical approaches, includes:

  • Presume guardianship is not needed
  • clearly identify the Reasons for concern;
  • Ask if a triggering concern may be temporary;
  • determining whether the concerns can be addressed by Community resources;
  • ask if the person already has a Team to help make decisions;
  • Identify the person's abilities;
  • screen for potential Challenges;
  • Appoint a legal support consistent with the person's values; and
  • Limit any necessary guardianship petition. 

For more, read Resource for Lawyers Targets Options Less Restrictive than Guardianship, Bifocal, the Journal of the ABA Commission on Law and Aging, Volume 37, Issue 5. 

June 17, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Window on a "Small" Case of Exploitation in New York

A recent court decision in New York details the extraordinary efforts made by an individual to take advantage of a former co-worker as she aged and became affected by dementia.  One of the tools of abuse was a Power of Attorney, dated 2010, that he reportedly used as his authority to isolate her from family members.  The court found that he  was able to then manipulate her as he controlled her finances, having the woman sign checks he later claimed were "gifts," for purposes such as to "defray costs of his visit to France to see his daughter," "to help him buy a house in Normandy," or to cover "the costs of his art exhibit in Paris."  Ultimately, the court concluded that the respondent/defendant, who under New York law was in the role of fiduciary as an appointed agent, could not satisfy his burden of proof to show the alleged gifts were free from undue influence.  

The trial level court entered an order finding him liable for $122,000 plus costs and interest, and restraining him from "transferring, using, spending or hypothecating any of his assets" until the judgment was paid.  See Matter of Mitchell, 2016 NY Slip Opinion 50853(U), decided June 3, 2016 by the New York Supreme court, Kings County.  

That is the "befriender" side of the issues.  However, the court also addressed the possibility of a will executed in 2013.  The discussion of the will brings into play the role of an attorney who was called by the defendant to testify at the hearing on the gift transactions, apparently in an attempt to bolster his arguments about the woman's capacity.  That plan backfired.

The way it all plays out through the testimony, as recounted by the judge in his opinion, raises important questions about what could or should the lawyer have done differently.  

The court wrote:

Continue reading

June 16, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Dementia on Broadway

The 2016 award for best actor in a dramatic play was awarded to Frank Langella for his performance as a man with dementia in The Father, a play that began its life as French playwright Florian Zeller's Le Pére.  

Another sign of our aging times.

June 12, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 10, 2016

Filial Friday: Georgia Supreme Court Rules that No Equitable "Right of Access" is Created by Filial Support Law

Georgia Supreme CourtAdult daughter Tamara Williford filed a petition for equitable relief in February 2015, seeking a Georgia court's order that her father's current wife must allow her access to her father.  Williford alleged that her father,  Tommy Brown, was in poor physical health, unable to leave his home, but in good mental condition.  She said she had talked with him regularly by telephone and in person, until his wife prevented her from doing so.

Apparently Mrs. Brown, Tommy's wife, was named as the only defendant in the lawsuit, and responded by denying Williford was a biological child, denying her husband was in poor health, and denying that he wanted to see Williford.

In June 2016, the trial court dismissed Williford's petition, and she took a timely appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. Oral argument was held in February 2016.

In Williford v. Brown decided May 9, 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court (pictured above) unanimously affirmed the dismissal, finding that there was no statutory or other legal grounds alleged that would support the "equitable remedy" sought by Ms. Williford.  Specifically, the court rejected the argument made on appeal that Georgia's version of a filial support law, OCGA Section 36-12-3, provided grounds for relief.  That statute says:

The father, mother, or child of any pauper contemplated by Code Section 36-12-2, if sufficiently able, shall support the pauper. Any county having provided for such pauper upon the failure of such relatives to do so may bring an action against such relatives of full age and recover for the provisions so furnished. The certificate of the judge of the probate court that the person was poor and was unable to sustain himself and that he was maintained at the expense of the county shall be presumptive evidence of such maintenance and the costs thereof.

The court concluded that this section "does not purport to confer on adult children a right to unrestrained visitation" with  parents.  "Moreover, Ms. Williford did not allege in her petition that Mr. Brown is a 'pauper,' much less that she believes that Hart County has or will ever have to maintain him at county expenses and then pursue an action against her."

In a footnote to the ruling, the court observes that the daughter "did not alleged and does not claim on appeal" that the wife prevented her husband "from leaving his home or communicate with persons other than Ms. Williford." Therefore, the court said it was not necessary to address whether a theory of "general habeas corpus" where a person was allegedly held "incommunicado illegally and against his will." 

This seems like a very sad case. One Georgia elder law attorney suggests that "if the ruling in this case disturbs you, then perhaps it is a good time to call your local legislator."  

June 10, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

What Are Physicians' Responsibilities for Older Patients with Firearms?

Florida State Law Professor (and friend) Marshall Kapp has a new article out, and my recent post "He Died with Guns in His Closet" triggered him to share it with us.  Marshall tackles the challenging topic of "The Physician's Responsibility Concerning Firearms and Older Patients," with thoughtfulness and candor.

Professor Kapp opens with observations and predictions about the potential for Americans to continue to own firearms as they age, even if they have declining cognition.  He writes:

In the general population, the presence of firearms in the home is positively associated with the risk for completed suicide and being the victim of homicide. It is well-documented that “[g]un ownership and availability are common among the elderly”and that the rate of use of guns in suicides and homicides by older Americans is significant. Firearms, along with falls and motor vehicle accidents, cause the most traumatic brain injury deaths in the U.S. for people over age 75.

 

Mental illness has been found to be strongly associated with increased risk of suicide involving firearms. The disproportionate incidence and prevalence of cognitive and emotional disorders such as dementia, mild cognitive impairment, and depression--often presenting themselves simultaneously and exacerbating each other--among older persons has been identified clearly. However, many persons with such disorders do not receive a formal clinical evaluation for those issues. Age-associated decline in health status, in combination with other factors, is a risk factor for dementia.

Professor Kapp examines state laws and the collective role of the medical profession regarding firearms as a public health matter, including specific ideas about what might be an individual doctor's "duty to inquire about or report on access to weapons for a patient who demonstrates cognitive changes," and the potential for any such "duty" to impact patient choices about treatment. For example, he reports:

Under current law, physicians, with the possible exception of those practicing in Florida, have latitude to act according to their own discretion when it comes to questioning their patients about guns in the home in this context. According to a coalition of leading health professional organizations and the ABA, physicians are able to intervene with patients whose access to firearms puts them at risk of injuring themselves or others. Such intervention may entail speaking freely to patients in a nonjudgmental way, giving them safety-related factual information, answering patients' questions, advising them about behaviors that promote health and safety, and documenting these conversations in the patient's medical record (just as the physician would document conversations with their patients regarding other kinds of health-related behaviors).

On free speech implications, he writes:

The courts thus far are split in their responses to First Amendment challenges to compelled medical speech brought by physicians qua physicians in their role as patient fiduciaries or trust agents (as opposed to claims brought by physicians seeking protection in their capacity as ordinary citizens). Nevertheless, there is a strong argument for requiring that state laws compelling particular speech by physicians in their physician role be examined under at least a strict scrutiny standard.

And to further whet your appetite for reading the full article, in his conclusion, Professor Kapp advocates for certain changes in state law, including:

State statutes should authorize physicians to inquire of and about their older patients regarding patient access to firearms in the home and to counsel the patient, family members, and housemates about firearms safety, up to and including recommending that firearms be kept away from the patient. However, the states should not enact legislation that positively requires the physician to make such inquiries and engage in counseling, although states should consider a tort standard of care evolving through the common law in a direction that imposes an affirmative obligation on the physician to inquire and counsel.

The full article appears in the Spring 2016 issue of the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy.  

June 9, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

American Society on Aging Call for Proposals

The annual American Society on Aging (ASA) conference is scheduled for March 20-24, 2017 in Chicago. The planning committee is now accepting proposals to present at the conference.  For more information or to submit a proposal, click here. The deadline for submitting a proposal is June 30, 2017.

May 31, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Health Care/Long Term Care, Programs/CLEs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The PRACTICAL Supported Decision-making Tool from the ABA

Two ABA commissions and two ABA sections have created the PRACTICAL supported decision-making tool for lawyers which "aims to help lawyers identify and implement decision-making options for persons with disabilities that are less restrictive than guardianship." PRACTICAL is the acronym for the steps the lawyer takes to identify the options both during the interview with the client and after when considering the case. The tool is available both as a fillable pdf or a word document. There is also an accompanying resource guide in pdf

Download your copy now!

May 22, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Alzheimer's Poetry Project - Involving Families and Caregivers

Have you ever been surprised by a loved one who, even with Alzheimer's, will sing or recite poetry?  If you've had that experience, you will probably be as intrigued as I was by the Alzheimer's Poetry Project.  Here are the details.

May 16, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s | Permalink | Comments (0)