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)
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, November 27, 2014
Recently I have encountered several thoughtful articles about the language we use, and the approaches taken, when talking with older persons. This seems to be an especially appropriate topic for the holiday season, when families often come together, sometimes from great distances. Whether we are talking with clients or family members, some of the same dynamics may be in play, especially when the question is about planning for the future.
From the ABA Commission on Law and Aging's Bifocal publication, comes David Solie's "The Wrong Signals: Shutting Down the Planning Conversation Before It Starts." He encourages us to "consider the psychological landscape of older clients -- it is a world embedded with two dominant agendas posing significant resistance to change. Together, these psychological currents create a deep inertia to disrupting the status quo." He labels these barriers to change as:
- Ambivalence and the "Righting Reflex," and
- The Need for Control
He suggests approaches, including the use of open-ended questions, reflective listening, and making a conscious decision about what words to use. For example, he suggests that when we start to discussion options, we explain more clearly that advance planning helps to "preserve choice" and avoids "loss of control."
Another potential problem may arise from "Elderspeak," a label social scientists use to refer to a tendency to use "patronizing" tones or words when speaking to anyone who is older. One recent article in McKnight's News made me chuckle, as it points to the well-meaning but potentially misguided use of words such as ""honey" by professionals when working with elders.
My father, a federal judge for more than 30 years, at age 89 may have forgotten many things -- but he does not take kindly to being called "honey" by strangers. He now has an entire assisted living campus, even a few of the other residents, calling him "Judge" or "Your Honor." I bet you might know a judge or two like that? When it comes to control, I'm not sure who is teaching whom about holding court.
Here's to more humor in all of our holidays -- and more opportunities for effective communication -- both within the family and beyond. Happy Thanksgiving!
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence (Kurzweil AI) reported in their October 21, 2014 news a story on new research, Hidden brain signatures’ of consciousness in vegetative state patients discovered. Here’s the opening paragraph “Scientists in Cambridge, England have found hidden signatures in the brains of people in a vegetative state that point to networks that could support consciousness — even when a patient appears to be unconscious and unresponsive. The study could help doctors identify patients who are aware despite being unable to communicate.”
The Kurzweil AI story includes the article’s abstract a segment of which we’ve included here
Going further, we found that metrics of alpha network efficiency also correlated with the degree of behavioural awareness. Intriguingly, some patients in behaviourally unresponsive vegetative states who demonstrated evidence of covert awareness with functional neuroimaging stood out from this trend: they had alpha networks that were remarkably well preserved and similar to those observed in the controls. Taken together, our findings inform current understanding of disorders of consciousness by highlighting the distinctive brain networks that characterise them. In the significant minority of vegetative patients who follow commands in neuroimaging tests, they point to putative network mechanisms that could support cognitive function and consciousness despite profound behavioural impairment.
Consider how these findings may be introduced in litigation where the patient is diagnosed as PVS, with one party seeking to have life-prolonging procedures removed and another objecting and seeking this test for the patient. Should we take this and other medical advances into consideration when drafting advance directives, especially instructions to our health care agents?
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.
The Annual Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) will take place on November 5-9 in Washington D.C., bringing together more than 4,000 researchers in an interdisciplinary setting to examine cutting edge issues in science, health care, social care, and governance, including related legal issues. The conference draws many from around the world, including my friend Roger O'Sullivan from the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland (CARDI). There are more than 400 sessions to choose from!
By the way, GSA has a very useful Facebook page, chock full of links to latest research and scientific developments.
Friday, October 17, 2014
With the mid-term elections in a few weeks away, there are some interesting proposals to watch, according to a series in Governing. A story that was published on October 16, 2014 focused on Arizona. Arizona Tests Popularity of the Dying's Right to Try Unapproved Drugs focuses on the ability of terminally ill individuals to try experimental drugs. Proposition 303 would allow the patients to not wait for FDA ok if the drug maker is willing to get the drug to the patient. Arizona is not the first state to consider this. Similar provisions have been approved in Colorado, Missouri, Michigan and Louisiana.
Even though FDA approval wouldn't be required, it still isn't the wild west of experimental drug use. "The drug must have passed initial toxicity and dosage testing under the FDA’s clinical trial process. Doctors also can’t prescribe an unapproved drug unless the patient has exhausted other options. Manufacturers are under no obligation to provide the drugs and insurers aren’t required to pay for them."
The article discusses the opposition to such laws, giving reasons such as providing false hopes and the likely decrease in clinical trials. Supporters refute the agrument, noting that the terminally ill folks are not typically eligible for clinical trials. These laws are different than the FDA's "compassionate use" provisions which "allows for experimental drugs for even seriously ill patients, and the program rarely denies an application, but “right-to-try” supporters again argue that the process is too complex and slow, as evidenced by application figures averaging about 1,000 a year."
One thing different about Arizona's proposal-the residents are voting on the provision.
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.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
In Psychiatric Times, Dr. Anandhi Narasimhan, California-based and board certified in psychiatry and neurology, compares her professional and personal experiences with grieving following the death of her father. She writes well, and in additional to offering suggestions for coping, she shares this poignant detail from her father's life, which also served to introduce me to a new and intriguing idea, "dialysis at sea." She writes:
"My father was a distinguished scientist who placed value on education. Although he did not believe in lavishness, he always liked to present himself in a well-groomed fashion. I miss his sense of humor, and I have discovered how important such a quality can be when faced with tough times. Remembering his witty repertoire reminds me to celebrate his life.
The picture I have included [with her essay in Psychiatric Times] is from an Alaskan cruise my family took. We had talked about taking a cruise as a family in the past; this had been a dream of my father’s. When he was placed on regular dialysis treatments, he said, 'I guess now I won’t ever be able to go on a cruise.'
It wasn’t until I saw a poster advertising 'Dialysis at Sea' that I realized we could make his dream come true. With some logistical planning, transferring of medical records and such, we were able to take my father on an Alaskan cruise, an experience he both treasured and loved.When I was growing up, my father had a sort of utilitarian view of vacations—we often had to be doing and seeing things; they had to be productive. This vacation was different—it was nice to see him relax and enjoy the awesome beauty of Alaskan glaciers. His smile in the picture is how I would like to remember him: intelligent, positive, humorous, and charming."
Read more of "My Father's Influence" here.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
George Washington Law Professor Naomi Cahn alerted us to the Washington Post coverage on new research analyzing causation factors to explain why 2/3 of all persons with Alzheimer's Disease are women. Lots of opportunities here for important classroom discussions:
"It has long been known that more women than men get the deadly neurodegenerative disease, and an emerging body of research is challenging the common wisdom as to why. Although the question is by no means settled, recent findings suggest that biological, genetic and even cultural influences may play heavy roles.....
Because advancing age is considered the biggest risk factor for the disease, researchers largely have attributed that disparity to women’s longer life spans. The average life expectancy for women is 81 years, compared with 76 for men. Yet 'even after taking age into account, women are more at risk,' said Richard Lipton, a physician who heads the Einstein Aging Study at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
The area of inquiry has been growing in part because of a push by female Alzheimer’s researchers, who have formed a group to advocate for a larger leadership role in the field and more gender-specific research. 'Scientific workforce diversity is very important because it’s much more likely to shape the research agenda,' said Hannah Valantine, the chief officer for scientific workforce diversity at the National Institutes of Health and a professor at Stanford University’s medical school.
Running counter to the longevity argument, Lipton’s research suggests that women who are 70 to 79 years old are twice as likely as men the same age to develop Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. After 80, the risk is identical and remains similar throughout the rest of life, Lipton said."
For more on emerging issues and indictors, see "Why Do More Women Get Alzheimer's?" by Frederick Kunkle. Thanks, Naomi!
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.