Sunday, March 30, 2014
Last fall, our Elder Law Prof Blog reported on the available of a MOOC (Massive Open On-Line Course) offered by John Hopkins School of Nursing on "Care of Elders with Alzheimer's Disease and other Major Neurogonitive Disorders." Did any of our readers participate? We welcome reports on your reactions to the experience.
Now there's a another MOOC opportunity, this time from the University of Tazmania on "Understanding Dementia." The 9-week course is described as "building on the latest in international research on dementia." And, true to the spirit of MOOCs, it is free and open to anyone to register, here. The course begins Monday, March 31 -- so hurry to register.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Occasionally on this Blog we post to studies suggesting cutting edge scientific developments connected to Alzheimer's. For example, last October, our colleague Professor Dayton, provided a link to a study in England described as a possible "breakthrough" in Alzheimer's research related to misfolded proteins in the brain. John O'Connor, the executive director for McKnight's Long-Term Care News, recently offered his own reaction to such news, following release of a different study:
"Here we go again: This week saw the release of yet another breathless study claiming the cure for Alzheimer's disease is getting closer — maybe.
The latest incantation is a report in Nature Genetics. This entry touts an international study of the disease that may help us unlock a cure. Unless, of course, it doesn't.
It seems like we get treated to at least one or two of these “important breakthrough” studies every month, sometimes more. And the plot seldom varies: Earnest investigators working countless hours have issued a report that may bring us closer to a cure. Then, tucked somewhere in the back is a mention that, ahem, more research is needed."
As with Mr. O'Connor, I suspect many of us have experienced "breakthrough fatigue" in the area of Alzheimer's research. Nonetheless, I am going to point to another study, this time suggesting a blood test targeting biomarkers that "may be sensitive to early neurodegeneration of preclinical Alzheimer's disease," and thus predictive of "either amnestic mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease within a 2-3 year time frame." The report on "Plasma Phospholipids Identify Antecedent Memory Impairment in Older Adults" is in the March 2014 issue of the journal Nature Medicine and despite the somewhat intimidating title, it makes for interesting reading.
But my real question is not about the value of the study, or as John O'Connor's essay suggests, concerns about the potential for hype to generate false hope, but whether many would actually be horrified by a predictor of future cognitive impairment within 2 to 3 years, even (especially?) one with "over 90% accuracy." I can think of several people I've known who worried about their "failing memory," sometimes for years, but who expressly rejected seeing a specialist for testing. Without a solution, such tests might be the ultimate example of the unfunny joke: Do you want to hear the good news or the bad news first? We know what's going to happen to you -- but you aren't going to like it.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
I spent most of our recent spring break in Arizona with my parents and sister (and trying to thaw my frozen bones). I had time to visit friends, some I haven't seen in decades, and often I was tempted to give a rueful chuckle. We're all in the same age range -- and several of us are searching for ways to help aging parents. With friends who have a parent with dementia, as soon as they find out that much of my work now focuses on "elder law," I would get what I've come to think of as "the question."
What's the question? "Is it inevitable that I too will develop dementia?" Of course, I'm a law professor, not a doctor. My friends are asking the wrong person.
But, then I noticed that several of my friends were reading the same book. The book is "100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer's and Age-Related Memory Loss," by Jean Carper, a well-respected medical journalist. One friend loaned me a copy. It was first published in 2010. I asked friends what they liked about the book, and more than one mentioned the "single idea" format for chapters, short enough to keep the reader on task, while sufficiently detailed to convince the reader why that "tip" just might make sense.
Some of the 100 "things" are, I hope, mostly an affirmation of common sense, such as Chapter 17's "Count Calories" and Chapter 20's "Control Bad Cholesterol." Occasionally a chapter strikes me as a bit trendy, such as the admonition in Chapter 22 to "Go Crazy For Cinnamon." But quite a few topics and explanations were either surprising, intriguing, or both, including Chapter 3's recommendation to "Check Out Your Ankle." The author explains how low blood flow in your foot, measurable by an ankle-brachial index (ABI) test, can point to looming troubles for the brain.
Happy reading and good luck adapting the tips to your life. Remember, with 100 recommendations to read, evaluate, and, as appropriate, embrace, it doesn't hurt to start "young."
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, bird watchers from more than 100 countries are expected to participate in the 17th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), February 14–17, 2014. Anyone anywhere in the world can count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count and enter their sightings at www.BirdCount.org. The information gathered by tens of thousands of volunteers helps track the health of bird populations at a scale that would not otherwise be possible. The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Via the BBC:
The discovery of the first chemical to prevent the death of brain tissue in a neurodegenerative disease has been hailed as an exciting and historic moment in medical research. More work is needed to develop a drug that could be taken by patients. But scientists say a resulting medicine could treat Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's and other diseases. The University of Leicester discovery showed all brain cell death from prion disease in mice could be prevented.
The research team at the university's Medical Research Council Toxicology Unit focused on the natural defence mechanisms built into brain cells. When a virus hijacks a brain cell it leads to a build-up of viral proteins. Cells respond by shutting down nearly all protein production in order to halt the virus's spread. However, many neurodegenerative diseases
involve the production of faulty or "misfolded" proteins. These activate the same defences, but with more severe consequences.
The misfolded proteins linger and the brain cells shut down protein production for so long that they eventually starve themselves to death.
It is rare to get cautious scientists keen to describe a study in mice as a turning point in treating Alzheimer's. It is early science, a lot can go wrong between a drug for mice and a drug for humans and the only published data is for prion disease, not even Alzheimer's. So why the excitement?
It is the first time that any form of neurodegeneration has been completely halted, so it is a significant landmark. It shows that the process being targeted has serious potential. If this can be successfully developed, which is not guaranteed, the prize would be huge. In Parkinson's the alpha-synuclein protein goes wrong, in Alzheimer's it's amyloid and tau, in Huntingdon's it's the Huntingtin protein. But the errant protein is irrelevant here as the researchers are targeting the way a cell deals with any misfolded protein. It means one drug could cure many diseases and that really would be something to get excited about.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
The Center for Law, Brain and Behavior (CLBB) at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has a fascinating sounding project underway: using neuroscience to develop tools to evaluate human susceptibility to undue influence. Here's a brief description from a recent MGH newsletter:
"A second CLBB project focuses on older adults with cognitive impairment who are at heightened vulnerability to coercion by opportunists hoping to control their decisions, particularly concerning financial matters. The goal of the study is to devise and test a psychometric instrument to measure susceptibility to undue influence that can be used in proceedings about guardianship, testamentary capacity and informed consent.'The development of this tool will make an immediate contribution to the protection of adults with mild to severe intellectual impairments,' says Dr. Price."
Hat tip to Ross Schmucki, Esq. of Media, Pennsylvania for sharing this news.
Monday, September 9, 2013
Recently a colleague described an estate planning dispute. After the death of the first spouse, it came out that the surviving spouse had never read the couple's estate plan, but had signed the documents in the attorney's office when they were presented. The individual failed to realize the documents were not entirely consistent with what the survivor believed to be the couple's plan. The problem may be hard to solve now that the first spouse has passed. Why would someone sign estate planning documents without reading them?
In this instance, the individual in question, a successful entrepreneur, was dyslexic; reportedly it would have taken the individual hours to read the will or trust carefully, and although the individual planned to read the documents upon returning home, that did not happen.
I suspect this happens far more often than lawyers would like to believe.
As explained by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), dyslexia is a "language-based learning disability." According to the IDA, an estimated 15 to 20% of the population has a language-based learning disability, with some estimates suggesting one in nine individuals can be classified as having a severe disability. Dyslexia can involve a cluster of symptoms, but is most commonly associated with difficulty in reading.
According to some researchers, dyslexia may also by associated with problems in oral communication. For example, IDA advises:
"People with dyslexia can also have problems with spoken language, even after they have been exposed to good language models in their homes and good language instruction in school. They may find it difficult to express themselves clearly, or to fully comprehend what others mean when they speak. Such language problems are often difficult to recognize, but they can lead to major problems in school, in the workplace, and in relating to other people. The effects of dyslexia reach well beyond the classroom."
It is possible that by the time people get to the estate planning phase of life, they have developed or learned individual strategies for coping with dyslexia. Or, they may have become experts in hiding the fact of their dyslexia.
As lawyers, perhaps it is incumbent upon us to inquire tactfully about each client's comfort level in reading, especially in reading often-complex estate planning documents. Lawyers can offer alternatives to a formal "signing" session that puts pressure on even the strongest readers to sign without informed understanding of the documents.
Strategies may include remembering to provide all clients with quiet time to read the documents, before any signing session is planned. The lawyer can also "chart" the estate plan, to provide a pictorial image of the plan for clients. Lawyers and their staff can be patient in reviewing each aspect of the plan carefully, also involving the clients with conversation and dialogue (rather than monologues). I'm sure experienced practitioners and academics have developed a whole host of key strategies that can assist not only those with dyslexia, but those with other common barriers to understanding. Is dyslexia an understudied phenomenon in attorney-client relations? "Comments" open below.
And before anyone brushes off the topic as not relevant to "their" clients, let's remember that dyslexia can be present with highly successful people, and thus there is the potential for impact on families with significant estates.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
University of California San Francisco (UCSF) researchers published a paper, made available this week in Nature, titled Video Game Training Enhances Cognitive Control in Older Adults. We can expect our students, children and grandchildren (not to mention game manufacturers) to remind us they were "right." From the abstract for the UCSF researchers' article:
Here we show that multitasking performance, as assessed with a custom-designed three-dimensional video game (NeuroRacer), exhibits a linear age-related decline from 20 to 79 years of age. By playing an adaptive version of NeuroRacer in multitasking training mode, older adults (60 to 85 years old) reduced multitasking costs compared to both an active control group and a no-contact control group, attaining levels beyond those achieved by untrained 20-year-old participants, with gains persisting for 6 months.
I suspect we will see a lot more on this area of research in the near future. Funding should be robust. Of course, I also suspect that not every game is equally helpful to cognitive enhancement and thus caution and consumer protections may be appropriate.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
German researchers assessing clinical practice guidelines for dementia care in 12 countries, including the United States, conclude that key ethical concerns are often not addressed. The reseachers looked for 31 specific ethical issues identified as core in a previous study. USA guidelines, developed by the American Psychiatric Association, had a comparatively high score (77%) for consideration of the ethical topics. Overall the study suggested that four issues, "adequate consideration of advanced directives in decision making, usage of GPS and other monitoring techniques, covert medication, and dealing with suicidal thinking," were not addressed in at least 11 of the 12 national guidelines.
For the full study, Inclusion of Ethical Issues in Dementia Guidelines: A Thematic Text Analysis, published August 13, 2013 in a peer-reviewed, open-source publication, see here.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
The 66th Annual Meeting for the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) takes place in New Orleans on November 20-24, 2013. As lawyers and law professors are aware, "Elder Law" is an inherently multi-disciplinary field. The GSA meeting is an opportunity to discover and share the latest in interdisciplinary research on medicine, clinical care, basic science, social science, behavioral science, and public policy for issues connected to aging. The meeting attracts an international audience, with more than 4,000 attendees, and some 400 substantive sessions.
The theme for this year's meeting is "Optimal Aging through Research," and there is a special workshop on the topic of family caregiving for persons with dementia, which should be particularly interesting for those seeking the latest in evidentiary bases for state or federal legislation to support caregivers. Further, the deadline for "late-breaking" abstracts for poster submissions is September 15.
Full details on the annual meeting are available at GSA's website.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Check out this webinar series sponsored by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Series Title: Public Policy & Aging Report on Healthy Aging and the Environment
The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) presents a distinguished panel of guest speakers to bring you a groundbreaking series of webinars on aging, environmental health, and disability. This series, which begins October 12, is sponsored by the John Merck Fund.
The series mirrors the contents of a thematic issue on healthy aging and the environment of the Public Policy & Aging Report of the Gerontological Society of America's http://www.geron.org/ policy institute, the National Academy on an Aging Society http://www.agingsociety.org/agingsociety/ . An electronic version of this publication will be made available for free to all webinar attendees.
To access additional information and register for any of the webinars below, please go to http://aaidd.org/ehi/content_3919.cfm?navID=306 of the AAIDD web site.
Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging with Ted Schettler, Maria Valenti
Tues Oct 12th from 2-3pm Eastern Time
Built Environment with Kathy Sykes, Rodney Harrell, Regina Gray
Tues Oct 19th from 2-3pm Eastern Time
Psychosocial Environment with Danny George, Peter Whitehouse
Tues Oct 26th from 2-3pm Eastern Time
Chemical Environment with Maye Thompson, Marybeth Palmigiano
Tues Nov 2nd from 2-3pm Eastern Time
Food Environment with Michelle Gottlieb, Emma Sirois
Tues Nov 9th from 2-3pm Eastern Time