Saturday, December 20, 2014
Here is a link to a podcast for a Smart Talk program from WITF Public Radio, where Zygmont Pines, Esq., Court Administrator for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and I were invited to talk about quite a few "hot" topics from Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Elder Law Task Force. The Task Force released its big Report and Recommendations last month.
The topics strike me as quite universal, not Pennsylvania specific. If you make it to the last few minutes (or skip ahead), there is an especially poignant moment with a family caregiver, who tells a real life story that will strike a chord with many.
December 20, 2014 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, December 19, 2014
New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Frank Bruni recalls his own reluctance to confront the realities of Alzheimer's, offering a touching account of his own grandmother many years ago, whose condition caused him to turn away. But as he also points out in his column, "Confronting an Ugly Killer," "the world is different now. Much of the unwarranted shame surrounding Alzheimer's has lifted. People are examining it with new candor and empathy."
As evidence for his observation, he points to the latest movie, Still Alice, with Oscar buzz already starting for Julianne Moore's performance.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Researchers at Stanford Unviersity School of Medicine have released their latest study of brain cell degeneration in mice, suggesting the potential importance of blocking the influence of certain molecular processes associated with inflamation and Alzheimer's disease:
“'Microglia are the brain’s beat cops,' said Katrin Andreasson, MD, professor of neurology and neurological sciences and the study’s senior author. 'Our experiments show that keeping them on the right track counters memory loss and preserves healthy brain physiology.'”
Here is Stanford's new release, summarizing the study published this month in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. Hat tip to Dickinson Law's Professor Laurel Terry for sharing this news.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Mark Friedman, an elder law and special needs attorney from New Jersey, recently wrote to comment on the important series offered by National Public Radio on use and misuse of certain medications in long-term care settings. Here is what Mark said:
"NPR ran a story on 'chemical restraints,' - nursing homes using anti-psychotic drugs to make unruly residents more pliable. According to the article, the residents are usually Alzheimer’s or dementia patients, and anti-psychotics can make the residents easier for staff to manage. But the drugs can be dangerous, increasing a resident’s risk of falls and exacerbating health problems. At high doses, anti-psychotics can also sap away emotions and personality and put the resident into a 'stupor.'
Administering drugs in this manner, any drugs, including anti-psychotics, without medical need and for the convenience of staff, is contrary to federal regulations. Unfortunately, it may also be widespread.
The NPR story includes a tool drawn from CMS data that shows the rate of residents on anti-psychotics at nursing homes across the country. You can look up the facility in which your loved one resides.
The news coverage shows that this issue is getting increased attention, and that’s a good thing. I think that as Americans age and more people have spouses and parents in nursing homes, the use of anti-psychotics as chemical restraints will have to diminish or end. People won’t stand for their loved ones being drugged into a stupor."
Thanks, Mark, for making sure we included this topic and the latest links for more coverage and your additional commentary. Along the same lines, I listened to an interesting follow-up conversation on AirTalk, a Los Angeles public radio affiliate's program, discussing "How California is Doing in the National Fight to Curb Over-Medication of Nursing Home Patients." That program, now available as a 23-minute podcast, included an articulate medical professional, Dr. Karl Steinberg, who described how he sees medication practices changing in long-term care, including better use of behavior health techniques, rather than medication, to help residents.
December 16, 2014 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Saturday, December 13, 2014
AirTalk, a program aired daily by Public Radio affilliate KPCC in Southern California, hosted a discussion about the issues identified in news articles about the Iowa criminal case, where a husband faces "statutory rape" charges for having sexual relations with his wife after she was diagnosed with advanced dementia and began residing in a nursing home.
Here's the link to a podcast of the December 12, 2014 segment.
December 13, 2014 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, December 11, 2014
In August, I reported on criminal charges filed that month in Iowa, charging a husband with sexual abuse of his wife who was living in a nursing home.
As a result of that post, I was invited by a reporter, who was working on an extended analysis of the case, to review certain information and records emerging from the case. Much of my own research is closely focused on issues both of capacity and protection.
The more one reads about the Iowa case, the sadder it seems. Even though at first it seemed the husband, a state legislator, might be expected to have sophisticated legal knowledge of the implications of what it might mean for his wife to be diagnosed with dementia, it became pretty clear -- at least to me, reading from afar -- that the husband is a fairly simple guy: A farmer, high school education, part-time legislator who liked pig roasts and parades, and someone who cared deeply for his second wife, trying as hard as possible to see her as "just a little" impaired.
I suspect that for many of us who have experiences with a loved one with dementia, there is a phase of denial, not just about the fact of dementia, but about the level of dementia. I remember one instance where a client always had her husband sign their joint tax returns, because even with Alzheimer's, he was "able" to sign his name clearly.
Reading the statute used to charge the Iowa husband also gave me pause. Iowa Code Section 709 was the basis of the sexual abuse charges. Sexual abuse in the third degree under Section 709.4 could be charged where a sex act "is done by force or against the will of the other person." That provision did not seem to apply. Charges could also be brought where the act is between persons who are not cohabiting as husband and wife, "if any of the following" is true: "The other person is suffering from a mental defect or incapacity which precludes giving consent."
Section 709.1A of the Act defines "incapacitation" to include "mentally incapacitated" or "physically incapacitated" and neither quite seemed to apply. Under Iowa law, "mentally incapacitated" means that a person is "temporarily incapable of apprising or controlling the person's own conduct due to the influence of a narcotic, anesthetic, or intoxicating substance." And "physically incapacitated" means that a person has a bodily impairment or handicap that substantially limits the person's ability to resist or flee."
So, how was the husband charged? He was charged under Section 709.4 (2)(a) on the grounds that his wife, with whom he was not "cohabiting," suffered from a "mental defect" that precluded giving consent.
So that makes the "elder law" issue fairly stark: Has his wife's diagnosis of dementia, especially advanced dementia, prevented her from giving legally effective "consent?"
Friday, December 5, 2014
I've written often in our Blog, including here and here, about our growing awareness and national concern about the issue of financial exploitation of older persons. In brainstorming a bit with another attorney about a thorny case -- and trying to decide where a parent/child relationship went wrong -- I was reminded of the work of Professor Karen Hooker, PhD at Oregon State University's School of Social and Behavioral Sciences. A major focus of Professor Hooker's work is the influence of "personality" in aging across the lifespan. She has examined spousal caregivers for persons with dementia, looking to see how the individual's view of self and the relationship affects "success," including successful caregiving. Another part of her work has examined closely the issue of "ambivalence" in family relationships.
For example, in Dr. Hooker's research, her team used qualitative study methods to examine older parent/adult child relationships. One of the major themes emerging when parents (each aged 67+) talked about their children was awareness that their children were "busy," and thus there were often ambivalent feelings of need and dissatisfaction about the parent's interactions with their children. The study revealed feelings both of resentment and pride about their busiest children.
That has led me to think that "ambivalence" may also be a component of voluntary "principal and agent" relationships, where the adult children are asked by the parent to serve as an agent under a power of attorney, for example. But as the adult child exercises more control over financial matters, might that parent also begin to have second thoughts, thoughts that are not acted on until "too late." The children believe they had authority to "pay themselves" for their roles in handling matters for their aging parent; the parent initially agrees, or at least does not object, and only later, after the money is gone, asserts some "agreement" about the financial matters, arguing there was an "understanding," even if never express at the outset? There is room for more research here, yes?
Thursday, December 4, 2014
Via the Toronto Star:
Ever since she was a teenager, Ashley Kwong knew she wanted to open her own seniors’ home. Now, almost two decades later, her dream is finally becoming a reality. Kwong is launching Memory & Company next spring — and she’s touting the Markham facility as Canada’s first private Alzheimer’s program. Kwong says Memory & Company will have a spalike feel, with well-lit rooms, secured outdoor spaces and programming such as music therapy, gardening and yoga. There will be a five-to-one staffing ratio and an on-site nurse. Costs, which range from $100 per day for basic care to $150 for those with more advanced Alzheimer’s, are on a par with many long-term care facilities and retirement homes. While more expensive than many day programs, Memory & Company will offer a different type of experience, catered specifically to the needs of people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, Kwong says. Clients will be free to roam the health club’s 11,000-square-foot space with a circular design to decrease their dementia-related agitation while wandering through the rooms. Clients will also have access to a salon, gym, dance studio and hydrotherapy spa, alongside outside services like massages and physiotherapy. “We’re also using iPad technology to provide more individualized care, instead of planning the whole program for the month and not caring what people are in the building,” Kwong says. “It’s a different approach than the assembly style of day programs right now.”
Read more at the Toronto Star.
Monday, December 1, 2014
There are so many things vying for our attention, and many of us may find ourselves easily distracted (say for example, by shiny objects). I like to use the example of Dug the talking dog from the fabulous movie, Up. (Going off on a tangent, consider using this movie in your classes, it's great) But I digress...or perhaps I was distracted....
Kurzweil AI ran an article on November 26th, 2014 reporting on a study on how to train an "aging brain" to ignore distractions. Disruptive sounds help aging brain ignore distractions reports on a new study, the results of which are published in the journal, Neuron. The study, Adaptive Training Diminishes Distractibility in Aging across Species is available with subscription or by purchase here. The abstract explains the study:
Aging is associated with deficits in the ability to ignore distractions, which has not yet been remediated by any neurotherapeutic approach. Here, in parallel auditory experiments with older rats and humans, we evaluated a targeted cognitive training approach that adaptively manipulated distractor challenge. Training resulted in enhanced discrimination abilities in the setting of irrelevant information in both species that was driven by selectively diminished distraction-related errors. Neural responses to distractors in auditory cortex were selectively reduced in both species, mimicking the behavioral effects. Sensory receptive fields in trained rats exhibited improved spectral and spatial selectivity. Frontal theta measures of top-down engagement with distractors were selectively restrained in trained humans. Finally, training gains generalized to group and individual level benefits in aspects of working memory and sustained attention. Thus, we demonstrate converging cross-species evidence for training-induced selective plasticity of distractor processing at multiple neural scales, benefitting distractor suppression and cognitive control.
Back to the Kurzweil AI article about the study. The Kurzweil story notes that "[d]istractibility (the inability to sustain focus on a goal due to attention to irrelevant stimuli) can have a negative effect on basic daily activities, and is a hallmark of the aging mind." The article notes the applicability of the research, including applications for individuals with autism or for "individuals struggling with a variety of distractions." The Kurzweil article notes the two-fold results of the study, "highlighting the therapeutic potential of this type of brain training to improve our ability to focus with age, it also shows that even in the aged adult, the brain is responsive to learning-based approaches that can improve cognition."
I was pondering the results of this study vis a vis individuals suspected of having diminished capacity. I was wondering whether there is application of the training to those individuals who may have difficulty with some ADLS if due to distractability. Would this be a temporary or long term solution and an alternative to guardianship for some?
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Ramping up into Thanksgiving celebration, thinking about the things for which we are thankful---how about adding caregivers to that list? Huffintong Post Third Metric ran a three-part series earlier this month on Unsung Heroes: The Face of American Caregiving. The Unsung Heroes Who Give Up Everything To Take Care Of A Sick Partner, the first installment in the series, focused on eleven extraordinary caregivers providing care to spouses/partners. The second, The Unsung Heroes Who Give Up Everything To Take Care Of A Sick Parent covers 10 family members providing care for their parents., 9 of whom are over the age of 50. The final installment, The Unsung Heroes Who Give Up Everything To Take Care Of Multiple Loved Ones covers ten amazing individuals who have provided care for multiple generations.
Knowing the statistics on caregiving, a number of us will be called upon to provide the care. These folks will inspire you. Happy Thanksgiving.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
In Gunnarson v. Transamerica Life Insurance Company, a federal district court in the state of Washington issued a November 6, 2014 order remanding the case to state court on diversity grounds, rejecting the company's argument that joinder of an individual sales agent as a defendant in the case was merely a step to prevent the out-of-state corporate entity from removing the case to federal court.
In rejecting the fraudulent joinder argument, the federal district court outlined several pending factual and legal issues between the parties arising from the dispute over long-term care insurance (LTCI) coverage. The issues include:
- whether the defendant agent's relationship with the insurance company, Bankers United (Transamerica's predecessor), was "disclosed" to the purchasers, relevant because under Washington Law, joint and several liability applies to agents of undisclosed principals;
- whether written promotional materials on LTCI provided by Bankers United barred a claim for misrepresentation in light of alleged oral misrepresentations by agent at the time of sale regarding dementia care; and
- whether a claim of misrepresentation, for a policy of LTCI sold 18 years ago, is barred by the statute of limitations, or whether there is an issue of fact about whether and when the purchaser knew or should have discovered that benefits would be paid only for "nursing home" facility care.
In Washington, as in many states, state law changed to expressly require LTCI insurers to cover non-nursing home based care; however, the statutory change apprently occured after the effective date of the policy in question.
The federal court order linked above resulted in remand to the state court for further proceedings under Washington law. (Allegations, of course, are not the equivalent of proof.)
Thursday, November 13, 2014
With the most recent news about actor Robin Williams as possibly having Lewy Body Dementia, readers might find free webinar materials from Morningside Ministries useful, at their website mm.learn.org. Look for the "In the News" link -- the materials strike me as objective and thoughtful.
Friday, November 7, 2014
Two challenging topics for many families: how to handle death and intimacy for aging family members. We're probably doing better coming to grips with the need to address death than intimacy. When long-term care is required, involving third-parties, the question of sexual behavior can become more important.
Along that line, Bryan Gruley at Bloomberg News wrote a thoughtful series addressing the social, legal, moral -- and just plain tough -- questions connected to sexual behavior that can arise with older persons in congregate settings.
Bloomberg Visual Data: Elder Care Sex Survey Finds Caregiviers Seeking More Training
The Bloomberg series quotes Albany Law School Professor Evelyn Tenenbaum, a civil rights, health care, and bioethics scholar, citing her article "To Be or to Exist: Standards for Deciding Whether Dementia Patients in Nursing Homes Should Engage in Intimacy, Sex and Adultery" from the Indiana Law Review.
November 7, 2014 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Yesterday, Tom Magliozzi, half of the Click and Clack duo of "car experts" on the long-running NPR radio show, passed away. I'm a fan of brothers Tom and Ray and their eclectic advice. I have a particular affection for Tommy's rowdy laugh -- that would start me grinning before I even heard the joke. It was sad news, especially as each of the stories I saw carried the report that his death was "from complications of Alzheimer's Disease."
Those five words imply so much, including the sadness, confusion and difficulties that may have attended the two years after he and his brother stopped broadcasting the weekly show. But, I also cannot help thinking that here was a man with "a full life, well lived." And one who's laugh will be missed by many.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
As anyone knows who has faced a diagnosis of Alzheimer's or other dementia in their own family, it can be devastating news. I remember asking the doctor whether there was some "behavioral" training or program -- in addition to or as a substitute for medication -- that might help my own family member preserve, if not improve, existing cognition. The answer at that time was a slow, sad shake of the doctor's head.
That response is why many will be pleased to hear that the Alzheimer's Association supports research into non-drug therapies. The latest grant funding for four projects, announced in Chicago last week, includes:
- A study of the use of "exercise or cognitive stimulation, or a combination of the two, for lowering the risk of cognitive decline and dementia in older adults." $247k to Dr. Amy Jack at the University of California, San Diego.
- Evaluation of the impact of aerobic interval training regimens on the brain and thinking abilities of people with type 2 diabetes. $250k to Dr. Gail Musen at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.
- A study of "Skill-Building Through Task-Oriented Motor Practice (STOMP) for improving daily life skills and delaying decline in people" with dementia. "STOMP utilizes repetitive therapy and a learning technique that focuses on immediate correct steps instead of trial-and-error to strengthen and preserve memory for completing daily living tasks." $100k to Dr. Carrie Ciro at University of Oklahoma Health Sciences.
For more information on Alzheimer's Association research and results, see here and here. I can say that that I'm glad to see studies of regular movement or exercise. In my own family, I saw some stabilization of cognition coincide with greater activity. Being on one level -- with easy access to the outdoors and lots of room and safe areas to walk -- has proven to be very helpful for my father.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
We posted back in August about Glen Campbell's status with Alzheimer's disease. A recent story on NBC News, covering his status reported that he still plays guitar and his label released his last song, I’m Not Gonna Miss You.” .
His final tour was filmed and a documentary, Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me, will be released October 24th, 2014. The article explains that he was in stage 2 when the tour started and stage 4 when it ended. Throughout, though, he played a mean guitar.
The NBC story includes three video clips, one which shows his last recording session.
Thanks to law student Erica Munz for sending me the link to the story. Calendar October 24, 2014 and go see this movie.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday highlighted a new study that suggests people with Alzheimer's may hold on to happy or sad emotions beyond the event that triggers those feelings. Here's the link to the audio.
The University of Iowa researchers published their article in the September 2014 issue of the journal Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, and it follows preliminary studies they published in 2010. The study used 20 minute movie clips with "happy" or "sad" themes with test groups. As summarized by Iowa Now:
About five minutes after watching the movies, the researchers gave participants a memory test to see if they could recall what they had just seen. As expected, the patients with Alzheimer’s disease retained significantly less information about both the sad and happy films than the healthy people. In fact, four patients were unable to recall any factual information about the films, and one patient didn’t even remember watching any movies.
Before and after seeing the films, participants answered questions to gauge their feelings. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease reported elevated levels of either sadness or happiness for up to 30 minutes after viewing the films despite having little or no recollection of the movies.
Quite strikingly, the less the patients remembered about the films, the longer their sadness lasted. While sadness tended to last a little longer than happiness, both emotions far outlasted the memory of the films.
The studies suggest the importance of positive stimuli from caregivers. The researchers emphasized that their findings "should empower caregivers by showing them that their actions toward patients really do matter." Researcher Edmarie Guzman-Velez said "Frequent visits and social interactions, exercise, music, dance, jokes, and serving patients their favorite foods are all simple things that can have a lasting emotional impact on a patient's quality of life and subjective well-being."
Thursday, October 9, 2014
Kurzweil Accelerating Intelliegence (Kurzweil AI) ran a story that got my attention. The signature of aging in the brain reports on the results of a study that looks at a "signature" in the brain "that may be the “missing link” between cognitive decline and aging and that may in the future lead to treatments that can slow or reverse cognitive decline in older people..."
This is a technical article and perhaps not the type we typically cover in our blog, but I thought it important enough to mention. Since I don't have a scientific background, I decided to excerpt some of the findings
they identified a unique “signature of aging” that exists solely in the choroid plexus. They discovered that one of the main elements of this signature was interferon beta, a protein that the body normally produces to fight viral infection.
Turns out this protein also appears to have a negative effect on the brain. When the researchers injected an antibody that blocks interferon beta activity into the cerebrospinal fluid of the older mice, their cognitive abilities were restored, as was their ability to form new brain cells.
Why this is important? It may lead to different treatments to help with cognitive decline-the researchers "hope that this finding may, in the future, help prevent or reverse cognitive decline in old age by finding ways to rejuvenate the immunological age of the brain."
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
A few days ago I blogged about an article in The Atlantic explaining one person's thinking of 75 being his optimal "old age". In that same issue of The Atlantic is another article--about longevity and 100 year olds--what it will mean for society as more of us reach that age. What Happens When We All Live to 100? was published on September 17, 2014.
The article starts with a history of sorts of life expectancies from human origins and notes that
Viewed globally, the lengthening of life spans seems independent of any single, specific event. It didn’t accelerate much as antibiotics and vaccines became common. Nor did it retreat much during wars or disease outbreaks. A graph of global life expectancy over time looks like an escalator rising smoothly. The trend holds, in most years, in individual nations rich and poor; the whole world is riding the escalator.
Projections of ever-longer life spans assume no incredible medical discoveries—rather, that the escalator ride simply continues. If anti-aging drugs or genetic therapies are found, the climb could accelerate. Centenarians may become the norm, rather than rarities who generate a headline in the local newspaper.
The article then moves to a discussion of those institutions intentionally working on increasing life spans, the Buck Institute, the U of Michigan, the U of Texas, UC-San Francisco, and the Mayo Clinic for example. Long-term readers of this blog may also remember a post about CALICO (Google's "spin-off called the California Life Company (known as Calico) to specialize in longevity research."). The article has a fascinating section about the research being done, including some interesting consideration of other life forms that excel in longevity (worm genes, anyone?).
I particular enjoyed reading the quote of one of the leaders in the field in describing the nascent nature of the research. "'[M]edically, we do not know what ‘age’ is. The sole means to determine age is by asking for date of birth. That’s what a basic level this research still is at.'” There seems to be some debate amongst the experts about whether life expectancy will continue to rise at the steady escalator-smooth rate as in years past. The article also mentions some of the theories advanced over time on increasingly longevity: vitamins, low calorie diets, education, exercise, etc.
One section of the article bears significant possibilities for class discussion, the political implications of an older society.
Society is dominated by the old—old political leaders, old judges. With each passing year, as longevity increases, the intergenerational imbalance worsens. The old demand benefits for which the young must pay, while people in their 20s become disenchanted, feeling that the deck is stacked against them. National debt increases at an alarming rate. Innovation and fresh thinking disappear as energies are devoted to defending current pie-slicing arrangements.
The author reveals this is a description of what is actually occurring in Japan. Consider as the author does, what increased longevity may also do to the judicial branch--especially the Supreme Court with lifetime appointments.
This article may be viewed as a bit of a wake-up alarm, although I suspect many of the folks in the US will just hit the snooze button
People’s retirement savings simply must increase, though this means financial self-discipline, which Americans are not known for. Beyond that, most individuals will likely need to take a new view of what retirement should be: not a toggle switch—no work at all, after years of full-time labor—but a continuum on which a person gradually downshifts to half-time, then to working now and then. Let’s call it the “retirement track” rather than retirement: a phase of continuing to earn and save as full-time work winds down.
Widespread adoption of a retirement track would necessitate changes in public policy and in employers’ attitudes. Banks don’t think in terms of smallish loans to help a person in the second half of life start a home-based business, but such lending might be vital to a graying population. Many employers are required to continue offering health insurance to those who stay on the job past 65, even though they are eligible for Medicare. Employers’ premiums for these workers are much higher than for young workers, which means employers may have a logical reason to want anyone past 65 off the payroll. Ending this requirement would make seniors more attractive to employers.
Back to the reasons for increasing longevity. One in the list above, education, seems to have a solid correlation and maybe not as obvious as other reasons that come to mind (vaccines, antibiotics, improved health care, public services, etc.). The author considers the role of education in longevity and examining budget cuts by states, suggests
Many of the social developments that improve longevity—better sanitation, less pollution, improved emergency rooms—are provided to all on an egalitarian basis. But today’s public high schools are dreadful in many inner-city areas, and broadly across states ... Legislatures are cutting support for public universities, while the cost of higher education rises faster than inflation. These issues are discussed in terms of fairness; perhaps health should be added as a concern in the debate. If education is the trump card of longevity, the top quintile may pull away from the rest
The last section of the article hypothesizes on the impact of an aging society if the escalator continues its ascent, achieving perhaps a "grey utopia" of sorts. The article is well worth reading, but it makes me think about how society values, or devalues, aging. Is getting old a challenge or disease to be conquered? For example, the author writes, "[i]f the passage of time itself turns out to be the challenge, interdisciplinary study of aging might overtake the disease-by-disease approach. As recently as a generation ago, it would have seemed totally crazy to suppose that aging could be “cured.” Now curing aging seems, well, only somewhat crazy." Read this article and have your students read it, too.
Sunday, September 21, 2014
A more positive way perhaps to word the question might be "how old do you want to live to be?" The Atlantic ran an article that phrased it a bit differently, but still focused on at what age is long lived enough? The author, Ezekiel Emanuel, serves as Director, Clinical Bioethics Department, National Institutes of Health & chairs U. of Pa. Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy. Why I Hope to Die at 75 appeared in the September 17, 2014 issue. Dr. Emanuel writes about his decision that 75 is his "magic number" and how others have tried to convince him that he should change his mind on this. Why 75? He explains
By the time I reach 75, I will have lived a complete life. I will have loved and been loved. My children will be grown and in the midst of their own rich lives. I will have seen my grandchildren born and beginning their lives. I will have pursued my life’s projects and made whatever contributions, important or not, I am going to make. And hopefully, I will not have too many mental and physical limitations. Dying at 75 will not be a tragedy. Indeed, I plan to have my memorial service before I die. And I don’t want any crying or wailing, but a warm gathering filled with fun reminiscences, stories of my awkwardness, and celebrations of a good life. After I die, my survivors can have their own memorial service if they want—that is not my business.
He makes it clear that he is not supporting physician-aided dying and if he lives past 75, so be it-he's not going to take steps to end his life. Where his wish comes into play is the type of health care he will consent to receiving once he hits that age. He argues that more years don't necessarily mean good years, noting that seventy is NOT the "new fifty". Although older folks may be more active or in better health, there is still a rise in disability which he points to as a reason that the focus shouldn't just be on quantity. He quotes another expert, "health care hasn’t slowed the aging process so much as it has slowed the dying process." The fact of living longer but more incapacitated holds no appeal for him.
Dr. Emanuel looks at examples of health care issues, such as stroke and dementia, using statistics and real stories to illustrate his point. Regarding Alzheimer's, after citing to statistics on the correlation between aging and dementia, he offers
[e]ven if we aren’t demented, our mental functioning deteriorates as we grow older. Age-associated declines in mental-processing speed, working and long-term memory, and problem-solving are well established. Conversely, distractibility increases. We cannot focus and stay with a project as well as we could when we were young. As we move slower with age, we also think slower.
He also discusses the correlation between age and creativity-an inverse relationship it seems--the older you are, the less creative, unless you are one of those rare individuals (we all know of someone quite famous who did something remarkably creative at an advanced age---think Grandma Moses).
As we age, to accommodate our "current selves" we constrict how we live, and as Dr. Emanuel describes, we find ourselves "aspiring to and doing less and less". Yet we each enjoy different things. This calls to mind some of the arguments we hear about the use of substituted judgment in health care/end of life decision-making. We each define a quality of life in different ways, and Dr. Emanuel recognizes that his view may be a bit harsh.
Yet, he contends, it is not about the elder individual racking up the years. There is a burden on the family to be considered, and he says "I will leave aside the very real and oppressive financial and caregiving burdens that many, if not most, adults in the so-called sandwich generation are now experiencing, caught between the care of children and parents. Our living too long places real emotional weights on our progeny."
Back to his plan when he reaches 75. As far as health care, here is his plan: to "stop getting any regular preventive tests, screenings, or interventions ... [and] accept only palliative—not curative—treatments if ... suffering pain or other disability." He makes it clear that this is his view and he respects the views of others that are contrary to his.
This article provides a wealth of topics for discussions with our students and is worthwhile reading, even though you may hold a contrary view to Dr. Emanuel.