Monday, July 6, 2020

What Does It Mean to Do Contact Tracing for Communicable Diseases, Especially for Air Travelers?

Last month I made my first roundtrip, domestic airline flight following 90+ days of lockdown and gradual easing of travel restrictions.  I scheduled this quick trip cautiously, for family-related reasons, and with a goal of returning to my Pennsylvania home well in advance of any return to work with students in my law school. I'm not a timid flyer, but I did my best to try to minimize risk factors, including selection of an airline that advertised "vacant" middle seats, masking requirements, and updated standards for cleaning the airplane and social distancing. I am writing here because an individual on the return leg of my flight in my same row (but across the aisle) became seriously ill during the flight. This post is about my growing concern about what it means to respond to the potential for a communicable illness while traveling, especially but not exclusively in the time of COVID-19. 

When the individual became ill (seeming to lose consciousness and vomiting-- more ill than what I associate with "mere" air sickness), the flight attendants responded to his needs with plastic bags and napkins.  On the positive side, they kept everything low key and talked to the individual softly.  I think it was another, closer passenger who summoned them and everyone tried to respect the privacy of the individual.  Eventually, the ill passenger was moved to the rear of the plane.  Shortly after that, all passengers were informed the seatbelt signs had been activated and everyone should stay in their seats for the remainder of the flight.   There were no further announcements and nothing said about the ill passenger specifically. When the flight arrived at its regular destination, I did not see the individual leave the plane.

What does it mean for any state health department or CDC program official to say they will follow a plan for contact tracing?  Each step of the process needs clarity, including that first step of identifying the ill traveler and other potentially affected travelers, right?   

I received a traditional customer satisfaction "survey" form from the airline the morning of my return via email, asking me to describe the flight. This made me realize that I should be talking directly to the airline about this specific incident.  Was the individual in question experiencing a communicable illness, especially COVID-19?  I made a short, emailed report to the airline less than 12 hours after the end of the flight, and made a follow up inquiry and a second report by telephone and email.   The most I have learned is that the airline is "researching" whether there is any record of the incident or illness on board that flight.  Taking a week (or more?) to determine whether the crew made a report is not reassuring. At a minimum, shouldn't there be a record of that plane being taken out of service for some period of time for cleaning?  

The Pennsylvania governor, for reasons unrelated to my account above, has recently asked all residents returning from the departure state in question (and certain other states experiencing surges in COVID-19) to self-quarantine for 14 days. That makes sense.  Even though I had been exceptionally careful during my time out-of-state, the airline incident was a stark reminder that travel, even with the lessons learned during the last several months, involves factors that are completly outside the control of any of the passengers.  "Being careful" on an individual basis may not be enough and when something happens that involves risk to others, we need clear lines  for any investigation and communication.    

Everyday we are learning new things about how to deal with communicable illnesses, including ones that may be life-threatening. I think what I'm realizing is that as individuals and consumers, we cannot be passive about these steps.

I contacted the CDC and was told there is a process for "contact investigations" by the CDC, but that triggering such an investigation cannot be done easily, at least not if you are a mere passenger.  They recommended I contact the health department in the state where my plane landed.  Here is what CDC sent me by email:  https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/contact-investigation.html

Weaknesses clearly exist in the protocols. The airline and CDC have been quick to warn me that they cannot give any information about the "patient."  I'm not asking to know the patient's identity in any way. But shouldn't any potentially affected traveler be entitled to know:

a. Whether there was a report of the illness made by the crew to the airline and/or other authorities.

b. The result of any investigation, especially in terms of public health implications.

c.  Whether a specific, communicable illness or disease was identified.

d.  Whether there are specific steps that should be taken by passengers in light of the history.

Shouldn't the CDC want to know whether others on that plane have experienced similar symptoms? (Thankfully, I have not, but although I was in the line of sight of his seat, there were others between us, and in front and behind him, who were much closer.)  I have realized that short of contacting every passenger on the plane, it might be difficult  for some airlines to help with "contact" tracing. They may be relying on a manifest rather than a chart for assigned seats.  Certainly, no one asked me or other, closer passengers on the flight for contact information. I hope the ill individual has recovered fully and quickly, and that for his sake this was a temporary illness.  I'm being calm, even as I'm frustrated.  I'm frustrated not just for myself, but for the larger public.  The  passengers on this plane included all ages, including older individuals.  Earlier during my trip, I overheard one older traveler say to another, "I just want to live long enough to see my grandchildren again."

July 6, 2020 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Science, Statistics, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 5, 2020

Must Any Public "Right to Know" the Covid-19 Infection Status of LTC Facilities Depend on Legislation?

Under the best of circumstances, it is difficult to make a decision about whether to place a fragile loved one in a care community.  With COVID-19, such a decision can be even more difficult,  as some states states (and some facilities) have resisted making public the names of long-term care facilities where residents or staff have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

In Arizona, a "right to inspect public records" suit was filed on May 5, 2020 by news organizations, seeking to review "public records" that show the number of COVID-19 positive residents at nursing care institutions, as well as the number of transfers made between such facilities and Arizona hospitals.  They were not requesting the identity of the residents; however, disclosing records containing the numbers would disclose the names of the facilities. That state's Governor has reportedly taken the position that not disclosing the COVID-19 infection history of facilities by name is "in the best interest of public health." 

On May 29, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury ruled against the news organizations.  In the 23-page opinion in CV 2020-005385, Judge Coury concluded with these interesting paragraphs: 

72. Both Plaintiffs and Defendants have asserted legitimate positions in this action, particularly given that the underlying issues are important and weighty in the lives of Arizonans. It is beyond dispute that Arizonans who have parents, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, and loved ones living, or who may in the future be placed, in a Facility to care for them want, and justifiably deserve, to know how that Facility and its residents have fared during the Covid-19 public health emergency. As a son, nephew, friend, and neighbor, this judicial officer understands, respects, and empathizes with the need for Arizonans to have access to the information contained in the Records. Fortunately, this need of family and caregivers has been mitigated, if not eliminated, by EXECUTIVE ORDER 2020-35, which requires Facilities to provide Covid-19 information to residents, transferees, and applicants – and their guardians and next of kin – on a prompt basis.

 

73. It is not the position of the Judicial Branch to enact legislation or to create policy – that responsibility rests squarely with the other branches of government. The Legislature could consider the policy implications on all sides of this issue, and if desired, enact clarifying legislation and expressly protect records, or direct that records be released. If any frustration exists, it is that this has not happened. The Act – the legislation authorizing the actions at issue – lacks clarity. Rather than using model legislation with clearly defined terms, and rather than actually defining the terms used, the Legislature in 2002 created Arizona-specific legislation, apparently from whole cloth. Even though the subject matter of the Act relates to emergencies – instances when clear statutes are needed to permit critical, decisive and time-sensitive actions – the Act left critical terms undefined. Eighteen regular legislative sessions have passed, and the Act has not been amended or clarified. Perhaps this is the fortuitous result of not having to deal with a widespread health emergency during the intervening years. Nonetheless, if this decision illustrates nothing else, it highlights the need for the Legislature to revisit the Act and make it more workable for all concerned. In its present form, the ambiguous Act does a disservice to the media, to government leaders, to the courts, and to all Arizonans.

 

74. Arizona has been profoundly impacted by Covid-19. Lives have been lost. Women and men, old and young, have been sickened. The economy has been set back. Livelihoods of people have been compromised. Weddings and religious ceremonies have been delayed. Births and funerals have been isolated. Students have missed classes and graduations. Temptation exists to simply adopt jurisprudence that because Covid-19 has created such harm in our state and because Arizonans need information to battle Covid-19, sufficient justification exists to “look the other way” and require release of the Records. This judicial officer, however, will not and cannot do this. Indeed, were this judicial officer to ignore the law, Arizona’s Constitution – and its provisions of limited government and separation of powers – would be added to the list of Covid-19’s victims. The Court will neither countenance nor assist in this. Although difficult in the face of this devilish virus, fidelity to the Constitution and laws of the State of Arizona must prevail.

Therefore, Judge Coury entered judgment against the News Organizations as plaintiffs with respect to their request to produce records containing numerical information on COVID-19 infections at specific facilities, ruling that this was medical information that was "confidential and protected as a matter of law."  

The court found that a triable issue exists relating to other issues in the case, "specifically, Defendant's failure to produce  documents relating to information regarding the availability of PPE."  

Note:  I have not yet found a public website containing Judge Coury's decision, although it appears the order is not a restricted document.  If any of our readers come across such a site, feel free to let me know and I can amend this post to link to the full opinion.  

My thanks to Jon Dessaules, a  former Dickinson Law student, now a long-established Phoenix attorney, for assistance in tracking down information on this case.  

June 5, 2020 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Science, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

National Continuing Care Residents Association Joins Other Senior Living Advocates in Opposing COVID-19 Immunity

On June 1, 2020, the National Continuing Care Residents Association (NaCCRA) released its public statement detailing the organization's opposition to COVID-19 immunity or waivers of liability for nursing homes, adding to the growing chorus of opposition. They explain:  

CCRCs mainly provide three levels of care under one roof or on the same campus, normally comprised of independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing care -- the latter two considered licensed long-term care facilities.  Our members can reside at various times in any of the three levels of care.  Fore example, one spouse can live independently while the other can live in assisted living or skilled nursing.  There are numerous variations of these living arrangements depending on the level of care required.

 

NaCCRA and its members are very sympathetic to the CCRC managers and front-line care/service workers as they labor during the coronavirus pandemic with its many challenges.  However, residents living and dying, many times alone, in nursing homes or assisted living apartments, should not be deprived of their legal rights or protections even in these most extraordinary times.

 

NaCCRA and its member residents living in continuing care settings are alarmed at the push to grant liability immunity to providers and operators of long-term care facilities in the face of the COVID019 epidemic.  Many states have acquiesced to provider association lobbyists at the expense of residents' legal protections.  NaCCRA believes that long term care providers must not be given a pass on negligence in any form simply due to a pandemic, which makes seniors in such congregate settings even more vulnerable.  

 

Therefore, we strongly oppose the liability waivers for COVID-19 legislated by some states.  WE urge that these be repealed and advocate on immediate moratorium on any future waivers for providers/operators of CCRCs and long-term care facilities.  It is our position that existing laws and negligence standards are more than adequate to protect long term care facilities that are sued if they have followed the proper standards of care and protocols.

My thanks to Jim Haynes, the current president of NaCCRA, for keeping us advised on their position.  

June 3, 2020 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Retirement, Science, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, May 18, 2020

Is This the Time for Renewed Consideration of "Negotiated Risk Agreements" in Care Settings?

In 2011, Joshua R. Wilkins, then a graduating student at Dickinson Law, won one of the top awards for a student writing competition sponsored by the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA).  Joshua wrote about "Consumer Directed Negotiated Risk Agreements."  His introduction began:  

Negotiated risk in the assisted living context is a largely misunderstood concept. Opponents and proponents of the concept often fail to agree on fundamental concepts underlying negotiated risk. Similarly, states have enacted legislation authorizing or prohibiting what is described as negotiated risk – however those states have defined the concept so differently than other states that it is difficult to understand the concept as a cohesive whole. Negotiated risk can be broadly defined as the shifting of responsibility for certain consequences between the resident and the assisted living facility. Further concepts of definition vary greatly between lawyers and industry actors, and will be discussed later.


As a polestar, the general opinions regarding negotiated risk should be summarized. Opponents of the concept believe that negotiated risk is an illegitimate and unenforceable imposition upon the rights of assisted living residents by facilities attempting to contract away liability for resident injuries.  Proponents color negotiated risk as a method for residents to exercise greater control over their living conditions and tailor the services supplied and guidelines imposed by the resident’s facility.

 

This paper proposes an alternative approach to negotiated risk that incorporates concerns of opponents of negotiated risk, and the selling points of proponents. A consumer directed negotiated risk agreement – one prepared by the resident’s independent attorney, would assist the resident in directing their standard of assisted living, while protecting their interests. A document of this type would require new state legislation authorizing the enforceability of risk shifting, and also delineating the boundaries that such an agreement could be used for. Additional benefits to this type of negotiated risk is that concerns over resident safety and welfare during the admissions process could be addressed without completely overhauling the market-based approach that is a hallmark of assisted living. Also, because residents seeking negotiated risk agreements would have to enlist the aid of an independent attorney, they would be more likely to benefit from advice regarding many other aspects of aging that they may not have otherwise obtained – including Medicaid and estate planning, education about possible exploitation, and review of pertinent resident admissions forms and contracts.

In proposing a consumer-driven approach, Joshua recognized critics' past reasons for opposing "negotiated risk" agreements, including the serious concern that facilities could mandate such "agreement" as an automatic wavier of all appropriate standards for care.  That's not true choice.  Attorney Eric Carlson, long-known for his advocacy for seniors, wrote an early article, Protecting Rights or Waiving Them?  Why 'Negotiated Risk' Should be Removed from Assisted Living Law, Journal of Health Care Law & Policy (2007).   

The specific risk that I'm thinking of these days is the risk that attends continued interaction with family members and friends for residents of assisted living or dementia care facilities.  Coronavirus is just one of the risks that comes about through such interaction, and certainly the emerging details of facilities that fail to adopt or enforce sound infection control measures are, at best, disturbing even without this particular disease.  Further, just because one resident is willing to "accept" risk coming from outside interactions, that doesn't mean the entire resident community would feel the same, and yet their own exposure to the risk increases with every fellow resident's outside contact.  And staff members' safety is also impacted by third-party interactions.  

Perhaps negotiation of the risk agreement provisions regarding community/family interactions should be made viable only where stronger safeguards can be developed against "casual" infection sources.  We have standards for "green" architecture.  Are there similar standards for "clean" architecture in senior living settings (and beyond)?  

May 18, 2020 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Housing, Property Management, Science, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Dispute over Statistics in Florida regarding Covid-19 Related Deaths

I've written about Pennsylvania's ongoing dispute between its Department of Health and some County Coroners regarding responsibilities for reporting Covid-19 related deaths and how to better assure accuracy of data.   It seems possible to me that part of the controversy in Pennsylvania may reflect the fact that the County Coroners are elected officials, and may not identify with the political views of the Governor.  Some Republicans vs. Democrat.  In contrast, disputes between Florida's 25 medical examiner district offices and the state's Department of Health are emerging news. 

I don't follow politics in Florida closely enough to know whether party-politics are involved, but there does appear to be concern from the regional officials that the State is inclined to discount Covid-19 related deaths in Florida, perhaps in an attempt to protect tourism into the state.  Should a "tourist" that dies in Florida be counted as a death in Florida?  From Florida Today, this opening account of one tourist death:

When a 66-year-old man was found dying on an Amtrak train passing through Okeechobee County on April 5, there was nothing to indicate that he had COVID-19. It was the local medical examiner's office that pieced it together. 

 

The examiner discovered the man had recently arrived with a fever at New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport from the United Kingdom. The Centers for Disease Control stopped him from boarding a flight to Florida and sent him to a local hospital for a coronavirus test. Released before the results came back, he got on a southbound train, went into cardiac arrest while traversing the Sunshine State, and was pronounced dead at a Florida hospital.

 
The district medical examiner collected the facts, swabbed the body, confirmed coronavirus and entered the man's death into the Medical Examiners Commission record as a COVID-19 fatality on April 13. . . . 
 
But since at least April 20, the Florida Department of Health has blocked the Medical Examiners Commission from releasing their own detailed spreadsheet of the COVID-19 dead. On Wednesday, the state released the medical examiners' spreadsheet but redacted the narratives and cause of death entries. 
 
For more, read "What's In the Censored Florida Medical Examiners Database of COVID-19 Deaths?" by reporters Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon and Jim Waymer.  

May 16, 2020 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Science, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 30, 2020

AALS Call for Papers/Presenters on Intersectionality, Aging and the Law

The AALS Section on Law and Aging is joining forces with the Sections on Civil Rights, Disability Law, Family and Juvenile Law, Minority Groups. Poverty, Sexual Orientation, Gender-Identity Issues, Trusts & Estates and Women in Legal Education to host a program for the 2021 Annual Meeting, scheduled to take place in San Francisco in January.  The theme for the program is appropriately broad -- "Intersectionality, Aging and the Law."  

I like this definition of "intersectionality": 

The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.  Example:  "Through an awareness of intersectionality, we can better acknowledge and ground the differences among us."

We need great presenters!  

From Naomi Cahn at George Washington Law:

We are interested in participants who will address this subject from numerous perspectives. Potential topics include gray divorce, incarceration, elder abuse (physical or financial), disparities in wealth, health, housing, and planning based on race or gender or gender identity, age and disability discrimination, and other topics.  The conception of the program is broad, and we are exploring publication options.

If you are interested in participating, please send a 400-600 word description of what you'd like to discuss.  Submissions should be sent to Professor Naomi Cahn, ncahn@law.gwu.edu, by June 2, 2020, and the author[s] of the selected paper(s) will be notified by July 1, 2020.  

AALS is planning on hosting the annual meeting from January 5-9 and I personally feel the overall theme for the conference is apt in these fraught times:  The Power of Words

 

April 30, 2020 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Grant Deadlines/Awards, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, International, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, Science, Statistics, Webinars, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Getting Real about Cause of Death


Last week, I listened to an interview of a County Coroner in Pennsylvania.  The focus of the radio program was whether statistical accuracy for any State's determination of cause of death is important, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.  COVID 19 image
The coroner said "yes" to the softball, threshold question but then the interview took a surprising turn. The host next asked, "How do you characterize cause of death for possible COVID-19 related deaths?"  In Pennsylvania, there has been a bit of controversy on this topic, as detailed recently by the Philadelphia Inquirer.   For example, if the affected person, especially an older adult, had multiple co-morbid conditions, such as serious heart disease and diabetes, is the new infection with COVID-19 (a contagious disease and public health hazad) the "official" cause of death as recognized by Pennsylvania law at 16 P.S. Section 1218-B (as revised and effective on December 24, 2018)?

The particular County Coroner, however, took his answer down a whole different path, predicting that COVID-19 deaths may end up being characterized as "homicides," if or when the disease is proven to be manipulated or caused by a laboratory in China.  Whoa!

That track of analysis clearly startled the host, who tried to refocus the speaker's attention on the potential complicating factors that determine how death is related in whole or in part to the coronavirus disease.  But the coroner wasn't willing to walk back his speculation, and started talking about the need for openness to the possibility of foreign, criminal intention.

The interview was an abrupt reminder that documenting any cause of death can be complicated.  This can be especially true when the official in charge of the decision is an elected official. Elected officials, whether at the state or county level, may be subject to political views or pressures.  Further, Pennsylvania and a surprising number of other states permit but do not require elected or appointed coroners to have a medical or pathology degree as a qualification for the job.  In Pennsylvania, coroners for Class 2 and smaller counties -- the vast majority of its 67 counties --  are "elected."  In 2018, the state law was amended to require newly elected county coroners to take a 32 hour course of instruction relevant to crime-scene investigation, toxicology, forensic autopsies and the legal duties of a coroner.  Officials elected prior to the December 2018 effective date of that modernized law, however, are grandfathered into the credentials and are not required to take or pass any threshold test.

It seems that even without the one coroner's flirtation with conspiracy theories about the origination of the COVID-19 virus, Pennsylvania state officials were already trying to harmonize state and local policies about reporting COVID-19 as an official cause of death.  During the Spring of 2020, Pennsylvania's Department of Health issued "Guidance" for Coroners and Medical Examiners regarding reporting COVID-19 related deaths, and the policy appears to emphasize that most certifications reporting cause of death are to be made by "a medical professional who attended the deceased during the last illness." According to the Guidance, it is only when there is a "referral" to the County Coroner or Medical Examiner that the county official would have a role in making a death report under the state's Vital Statistics Law.  

April 26, 2020 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Science, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 20, 2020

Journal of Elder Policy Calls for Papers related to COVID-19, Policy and Older Adults

Our friend Professor Naomi Cahn at George Washington Law has advised us that the peer-reviewed Journal of Elder Policy is planning a special issue related to COVID-19.  Certainly the implications of policy in this pandemic are constantly in the news, and how appropriate to begin the process of analysis. 

Abstracts of 500 words are due by June 15, 2020.  Full papers of between 8,000 and 10,000 words are due by September 30, 2020.

Topics may include but are not limited to:

  • Risk assessment, Ageism, Legislation to protect older adults,
  • Community initiatives, Medical and nursing perspectives,
  • Mental health challenges for elders, Family support or conflict,
  • Helping and volunteering, Rationing of care, Challenges for caregivers

Authors should send their Vita and a 500 word abstract related to their paper by June 15 to Managing Assistant Editor, Kaitlyn Langendoerfer.  Details available here. 

The ever-busy Naomi is a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal.  Thank you for letting us know about this opportunity, Naomi!

April 20, 2020 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Grant Deadlines/Awards, Health Care/Long Term Care, Programs/CLEs, Science, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults Opportunities for the Health Care System

The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine has issued a new report,  Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults Opportunities for the Health Care System.

Here's the description

Social isolation and loneliness are serious yet underappreciated public health risks that affect a significant portion of the older adult population. Approximately one-quarter of community-dwelling Americans aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated, and a significant proportion of adults in the United States report feeling lonely. People who are 50 years of age or older are more likely to experience many of the risk factors that can cause or exacerbate social isolation or loneliness, such as living alone, the loss of family or friends, chronic illness, and sensory impairments. Over a life course, social isolation and loneliness may be episodic or chronic, depending upon an individual’s circumstances and perceptions.

A substantial body of evidence demonstrates that social isolation presents a major risk for premature mortality, comparable to other risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking, or obesity. As older adults are particularly high-volume and high-frequency users of the health care system, there is an opportunity for health care professionals to identify, prevent, and mitigate the adverse health impacts of social isolation and loneliness in older adults.

Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults summarizes the evidence base and explores how social isolation and loneliness affect health and quality of life in adults aged 50 and older, particularly among low income, underserved, and vulnerable populations. This report makes recommendations specifically for clinical settings of health care to identify those who suffer the resultant negative health impacts of social isolation and loneliness and target interventions to improve their social conditions. Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults considers clinical tools and methodologies, better education and training for the health care workforce, and dissemination and implementation that will be important for translating research into practice, especially as the evidence base for effective interventions continues to flourish.

You can download a pdf of the book for free, or order a hard cc here.

March 1, 2020 in Books, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Aging in This Decade Starting in 2020

Kaiser Health News  published an interesting piece a few days ago, What The 2020s Have In Store For Aging Boomers  opens with some interesting data. "Within 10 years, all of the nation’s 74 million baby boomers will be 65 or older. The most senior among them will be on the cusp of 85. ... Even sooner, by 2025, the number of seniors (65 million) is expected to surpass that of children age 13 and under (58 million) for the first time, according to Census Bureau projections." The author interviewed a number of experts to get a sense of what this decade will look like for the boomers and the trends they will face.

  1. Care Crisis:  "Never have so many people lived so long, entering the furthest reaches of old age and becoming at risk of illness, frailty, disability, cognitive decline and the need for personal assistance."
  2. Living longer and "better, " with a focus on quality of life.
  3. "Altering social infrastructure" such as more easily accessible transportation, increased affordable housing,  making existing housing more appropriate for aging in place, and inter-generational programs.
  4. Flipping the perceptions of aging from negative to positive.
  5. "Advancing science", that is “advances in genetic research and big data analytics will enable more personalized — and effective — prescriptions” for both prevention and medical treatments ...."
  6. Responding to inequalities in aging.
  7. Longer careers in the work force

A new decade with ongoing challenges and a chance for progress!

January 22, 2020 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Other, Retirement, Science, Statistics | Permalink

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Blood Test for Alzheimer's?

Professor Naomi Cahn, the incoming chair of the AALS section on Aging & Law, sent me this recent article,  The Hunt for a Blood Test for Alzheimer’s Disease wherein "[r]esearchers hope circulating biomarkers will enable earlier detection and better monitoring of the neurodegenerative disorder—and perhaps help usher in new treatments." The article identifies updates in research and summarizes some blood tests being tried to help with diagnosis.

A number of questions and issues remain to be resolved before many of the biomarkers found in the blood are ready for use in trials, much less for clinical care... [with] [o]ne issue that researchers must account for is individual variability....  “People are so different [and] there’s a lot of things we still don’t know how to even control for in terms of statistical analyses.” Age and APOE4 carrier status, for example, can change the levels of some AD biomarkers independently of whether an individual has the disease.

The story also notes the existence of technical challenges and challenges of consistency. So far scientists haven't found the definitive diagnosis, nor the cure, but they are surely working hard to do so.

 

December 11, 2019 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Updates from Missouri

I was in Missouri last week for a couple of days and had a chance to visit with some great people. First, I had the privilege to meet Dr. Erin Robinson and Dr. Clark Peters from the School of Social Work at Mizzou.   The work they are doing in gerontological social work is quite interesting. At some point our conversation segued into the role of technology in caregiving for older adults, and Dr. Robinson shared with me the research and activities of the Mizzou Center for Eldercare & Rehabilitation Technology, whose "mission is to create technology for proactive healthcare that helps older adults and people of all ages and needs to lead healthier, more independent lives."   We also talked about the University's foray into housing for elders, known as TigerPlace. which is a partnership between Americare and the Mizzou Sinclair School of Nursing.

On Friday, I attended day two of the winter symposium of the Missouri Chapter of NAELA (MoNAELA), The two day program had a robust agenda of general sessions and two tracks, advanced and basics. These folks are a great bunch of people who are quite knowledgeable and caring.

 

 

December 10, 2019 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Programs/CLEs, Science, Web/Tech | Permalink

Friday, November 15, 2019

Two Recent Articles About Dementia

Two articles in the news are worth mentioning, in case you missed them. First, the New York Times ran an article, Why Didn't She Get Alzheimer's? The Answer Could Hold a Key to Fighting the Disease. "Researchers have found a woman with a rare genetic mutation that has protected her from dementia even though her brain has developed major neurological features of the disease."  The article highlights a recently published study "in the journal Nature Medicine, [in which] researchers say the woman, whose name they withheld to protect her privacy, has another mutation that has protected her from dementia even though her brain has developed a major neurological feature of Alzheimer’s disease."  The article reminds us to not expect instant therapies-this is going to take time, but even so, it's still very positive news. "[T]his case comes at a time when the Alzheimer’s field is craving new approaches after billions of dollars have been spent on developing and testing treatments and some 200 drug trials have failed. It has been more than 15 years since the last treatment for dementia was approved, and the few drugs available do not work very well for very long."

Thanks to Professor Naomi Cahn for alerting me to this article.

The second article I wanted to mention also appeared recently in the New York Times. The Loneliness of Frontotemporal Dementiaoffers this description of the disease:

Frontotemporal dementia attacks people in their fifth or sixth decade, just as retirement comes within reach. Doctors believe the disease affects 60,000 people in the United States alone. Neurons in the front and side of the brain wilt, and along with them, images of peacefully growing old fade. Judgment and complex planning yields to chaotic disorganization. Inhibitions give way to impulsivity and hypersexuality, so that longtime faithful partners look to affairs and excessive pornography. Empathy turns to apathy. Obsessions and compulsions erupt. Language can become laborious; the meaning of words and objects can be lost, and fluent speech can dissolve into fragments of sentences with nonsensical grammar. Jarringly, memory remains largely untouched. Since brain areas that dictate personality are often the first to suffer, most people end up on a therapist’s couch long before finding their way to a neurologist.

The article examines the importance of support groups and how some individuals present with the disease.  There are some trials underway; "'[b]ecause frontotemporal dementia is often familial, we can get people into a trial before they have symptoms,' [according to one expert] 'By sequencing genes from a blood sample, we know which family members are probably going to get the disease. If we can slow down progression in those people, it’s virtually a cure.'”

 

November 15, 2019 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Health Care/Long Term Care, Other, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Napping More Than Usual? Read This Article.

We have all had that after lunch afternoon slump where we just want a nap. Do you find yourself napping more than usual? There is a new study on changes to sleep-wake cycles and Alzheimer's. For the non-scientist like me, here's the USA Today story:  Napping more? That could be an early symptom of Alzheimer's, new study says.

So wait, don't panic if you are a normal napper.  Here's a segment from the article that explains: "People who develop Alzheimer's tend to sleep more during the day, taking naps or feeling drowsy and dosing off. Sometimes, they wake up during the night; that's called fragmented sleep .... If napping is a part of your routine on a regular basis though, you don't need to worry about taking an afternoon snooze, or mid-morning for that matter."  So it's all about the change in sleep patterns. Whew.

Here's the abstract for the article about the study.

Introduction

Sleep-wake disturbances are a common and early feature in Alzheimer's disease (AD). The impact of early tau pathology in wake-promoting neurons (WPNs) remains unclear.

Methods

We performed stereology in postmortem brains from AD individuals and healthy controls to identify quantitative differences in morphological metrics in WPNs. Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) and corticobasal degeneration were included as disease-specific controls.

Results

The three nuclei studied accumulate considerable amounts of tau inclusions and showed a decrease in neurotransmitter-synthetizing neurons in AD, PSP, and corticobasal degeneration. However, substantial neuronal loss was exclusively found in AD.

Discussion

WPNs are extremely vulnerable to AD but not to 4 repeat tauopathies. Considering that WPNs are involved early in AD, such degeneration should be included in the models explaining sleep-wake disturbances in AD and considered when designing a clinical intervention. Sparing of WPNs in PSP, a condition featuring hyperinsomnia, suggest that interventions to suppress the arousal system may benefit patients with PSP.

The full study is available here.

August 27, 2019 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Health Care/Long Term Care, Other, Science, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Early Diagnosis of Alzheimer's Through Testing

So we don't be on the cusp of a cure for Alzheimer's but recent stories indicate the medical folks might be getting closer to diagnosing it. First, the New York Times reported that we may soon have a blood test that can diagnose it.

A Blood Test for Alzheimer’s?  It’s Coming, Scientists Report

For decades, researchers have sought a blood test for beta amyloid, the protein that is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Several groups and companies have made progress, and [last]
Thursday, scientists at Washington University in St. Louis reported that they had devised the most sensitive blood test yet.

The test will not be available for clinical use for years, and in any event, amyloid is not a perfect predictor of Alzheimer’s disease: Most symptomless older people with amyloid deposits in their brains will not develop dementia.

But the protein is a significant risk factor, and the new blood test identified patients with amyloid deposits before brain scans did. That will be important to scientists conducting trials of drugs top revent Alzheimer’s. They need to find participants in the earliest stages of the disease.

Since we can't cure it, why do we want to diagnose it?

There is no treatment for Alzheimer’s, and very early diagnosis of any disease can be problematic, since it may not progress. So the first use for this blood test will probably be to screen people for clinical trials of drugs to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, said Dr. Michael Weiner, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco.

Ok, a blood test. Pretty easy, not too invasive.  Here's another test on the horizon, according to another article, again in the New York Times: A Brain Scan May Predict Alzheimer’s. Should You Get One? There is "criteria developed by the Alzheimer’s Association and nuclear medicine experts, which call for PET scans only in cases of unexplained or unusual symptoms and unclear diagnoses.... But as evidence mounts that brain damage from Alzheimer’s begins years before people develop symptoms, worried patients and their families may start turning to PET scans to learn if they have this biomarker."  These tests are expensive and "[a]myloid plaques occur commonly in older people’s brains, but not everyone with amyloid will develop dementia, which probably involves multiple factors. Nor does a negative PET scan mean someone won’t develop dementia."

There's a lot of research being done and we all owe a big thank you to the researchers fighting this and all the other diseases out there that threaten us as we age.

August 8, 2019 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Health Care/Long Term Care, Other, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Applications for Fellows at the Global Brain Health Institute

The Global Brain Health Institute is taking applications for those who are interested in becoming an Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Brain Health at the GBHI.

The Atlantic Fellows for Equity in Brain Health program at GBHI is an opportunity to elevate ...r dedication and contributions to brain health. Applicants should demonstrate a commitment to brain health and health care policy, as well as an ability to implement effective interventions in their home community and to become a regional leader in brain health.

GBHI welcomes applications from people living anywhere in the world and working in a variety of professions. Fellows are typically early and mid-career. At least one-half of fellows will come from outside the US and Ireland, with an initial emphasis on Latin America and the Mediterranean.

Thanks to Sarah Hooper, Executive Director & Adjunct Professor of Law, UCSF/UC Hastings Consortium on Law, Science & Health Policy, Policy Director | Medical-Legal Partnership for Seniors, Senior Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity | Atlantic Institute for sending me the announcement.

July 25, 2019 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Health Care/Long Term Care, Other, Science, Statistics | Permalink

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

"LATE", a "new" dementia that isn't Alzheimer's

In May, AARP ran a story about research identifying a new dementia that is not Alzheimer's. Is It Alzheimer's ... or LATE? explains about recent results into research of cases that although thought to be Alzheimer's are not. "[A] report published in the medical journal Brain reveals that in cases involving people older than 80, up to 50 percent may, in fact, be caused by a newly identified form of dementia. It's called LATE, which is short for limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy....The news, published last month, is being heralded as a potential breakthrough, as identifying a new type of dementia could be critical for targeting research — for both LATE and Alzheimer's. In fact, the report included recommended research guidelines as well as diagnostic criteria for LATE." The disease can mimic some aspects of Alzheimer's, the story explains, and it can only be identified in an autopsy.

Here is the abstract from the study:

We describe a recently recognized disease entity, limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy (LATE). LATE neuropathological change (LATE-NC) is defined by a stereotypical TDP-43 proteinopathy in older adults, with or without coexisting hippocampal sclerosis pathology. LATE-NC is a common TDP-43 proteinopathy, associated with an amnestic dementia syndrome that mimicked Alzheimer’s-type dementia in retrospective autopsy studies. LATE is distinguished from frontotemporal lobar degeneration with TDP-43 pathology based on its epidemiology (LATE generally affects older subjects), and relatively restricted neuroanatomical distribution of TDP-43 proteinopathy. In community-based autopsy cohorts, ∼25% of brains had sufficient burden of LATE-NC to be associated with discernible cognitive impairment. Many subjects with LATE-NC have comorbid brain pathologies, often including amyloid-β plaques and tauopathy. Given that the ‘oldest-old’ are at greatest risk for LATE-NC, and subjects of advanced age constitute a rapidly growing demographic group in many countries, LATE has an expanding but under-recognized impact on public health. For these reasons, a working group was convened to develop diagnostic criteria for LATE, aiming both to stimulate research and to promote awareness of this pathway to dementia. We report consensus-based recommendations including guidelines for diagnosis and staging of LATE-NC. For routine autopsy workup of LATE-NC, an anatomically-based preliminary staging scheme is proposed with TDP-43 immunohistochemistry on tissue from three brain areas, reflecting a hierarchical pattern of brain involvement: amygdala, hippocampus, and middle frontal gyrus. LATE-NC appears to affect the medial temporal lobe structures preferentially, but other areas also are impacted. Neuroimaging studies demonstrated that subjects with LATE-NC also had atrophy in the medial temporal lobes, frontal cortex, and other brain regions. Genetic studies have thus far indicated five genes with risk alleles for LATE-NC: GRN, TMEM106B, ABCC9, KCNMB2, and APOE. The discovery of these genetic risk variants indicate that LATE shares pathogenetic mechanisms with both frontotemporal lobar degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease, but also suggests disease-specific underlying mechanisms. Large gaps remain in our understanding of LATE. For advances in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, there is an urgent need for research focused on LATE, including in vitro and animal models. An obstacle to clinical progress is lack of diagnostic tools, such as biofluid or neuroimaging biomarkers, for ante-mortem detection of LATE. Development of a disease biomarker would augment observational studies seeking to further define the risk factors, natural history, and clinical features of LATE, as well as eventual subject recruitment for targeted therapies in clinical trials.

The full article is available here as a pdf.

July 3, 2019 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Health Care/Long Term Care, Science, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 1, 2019

European Heat Wave Endangers Elders

So last week I posted how elders had an impact on climate change. Now I write about the impact climate change has on elders.  In case you weren't aware, there's a heat wave in Europe. In fact, one of my dear friends is teaching in our summer abroad program in Spain and he unexpectedly texted me to tell me how hot it was.  So last week's story in the Washington Post on the heatwave in France seems timely.

A heat wave killed 15,000 in France in 2003. As temperatures soar again, officials are taking no chances. explains about the various steps that French authorities are taking to offset the effect of the heatwave hitting their country, These record-breaking temperatures "scientists say are becoming more common in Europe as a result of climate change." Officials in Paris have taken a number of steps to help residents cope with the heat.  "The heat particularly threatens children, pregnant women and the elderly, city authorities warn. The city has set up a special phone service for elderly and sick people, and authorities have asked hospitals and retirement homes to be on alert. Older residents left alone made up many of the victims of the 2003 heat crisis."  The heat is record-breaking, according to the BBC.

Unusually hot temperatures are not limited to just Europe. The Tampa Bay area of Florida (where the College of Law is located), whose residents are used to hot and humid conditions this time of year, issued a heat advisory on June 26, 2019."[I]t’s rare for temperatures in Florida to climb beyond the low 90s in the summer ...  But with a high pressure system in the Atlantic blocking most of those cooling storms... the high ... should reach at least 96 – in the shade. Heat index values, meaning the temperature it feels like outside, will be 104 in Tampa and as high as 110 in the southern Bay Area."

 

July 1, 2019 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, International, Other, Science, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

At What Age Are You Old?

That's the age-old (pun intended) question, isn't it? I know my students perceive me as old, but I know in my mind I'm not as old as my chronological age would denote. So the Washington Post tackled the "how old is old?" question in a recent story, An ageless question: When is someone ‘old’?

Typically, people decide who is “old” based on how many years someone has already lived, not how many more years they can expect to live, or even how physically or cognitively healthy they are. I will soon turn 62. What does that actually tell you? Not very much, which is why, like many of my sexagenarian friends, I’m apt to claim, “Yes, age is just a number.”

So what does “old” really mean these days?

All of us who teach elder law know that asking how old is old is valid and important. It impacts eligibility for programs and benefits, for example. It's also important for the purpose of policymakers who have to make plans for aging populations, the article explains. In the U.S. we still see the use of 60 or 65 as a threshold to "old."

The United Nations historically has defined older persons as people 60 years or over (sometimes 65). It didn’t matter whether you lived in the United States, China or Senegal, even though life expectancy is drastically different in each of those countries. Nor did it depend on an individual’s functional or cognitive abilities, which can also be widely divergent. Everyone became old at 60. It was as though you walked through a door at midnight on the last day of 59, emerging a completely different person the next morning: an old person.

Two experts quoted in the article, demographers, discuss the different between chronological age and prospective age, that is "'chronological age 'tells us how long we’ve lived so far. In contrast, prospective age is concerned about the future. Everyone with the same prospective age has the same expected remaining years of life.'” One of them is quoted as saying you are old when you have a "specific life expectancy is 15 years or less. That ..  is when most people will start to exhibit the signs of aging, which is to say when quality of life takes a turn for the worse."  By this measure I'm not old yet but by golly I'm close.

The expert when on to elaborate

[For] ... folks in the United States... When are we considered old? For women, the old age threshold is about 73; for men, 70.... [The expert] layers his concept of prospective age with another quality, which he calls “characteristic aging.”... “It depends upon the characteristics of people, in which sense they are old,” he says. “Are they cognitively old? Are they physically old? Are they old in terms of their disabilities? It depends.”

Old is not a one-size fits all and not only are there variations within the U.S. there are by country.  The article is really fascinating-read it and figure out how long before you are "old."

Thanks to Professor Naomi Cahn for sending the article.

June 25, 2019 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Other, Science, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Science of Being Susceptible To Scams

Marketplace recently ran a story about fascinating research on whether there is a correlation between age and susceptibility to scams.  Age of fraud: Are seniors more vulnerable to financial scams? opens with the story of one individual who fell victim to a "gift card" scam of almost $200,ooo. Think it can't happen to you? Here is where the science comes in.

[A researcher] and his colleagues have put a label on what they see as an all-too common condition: “age-associated financial vulnerability.”

“We are learning that there are changes in the aging brain, even in the absence of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease or other neurodegenerative illnesses, that may render older adults vulnerable to financial exploitation.

The science is showing that older folks

ability to detect sketchy situations may decline. Or, we may become prone to seeing the upside of a risky deal and blow off the downside. Some people are more inclined to believe the last person they spoke to. Others may lose the ability to push back on a high-pressure predator. Researchers emphasize that this phenomenon goes way beyond changes in the brain.

“It also involves all of these other social and environmental factors like social isolation, like cultural factors and societal factors, like older adults having more wealth compared to younger generations,” said Marti DeLiema, a research scholar at the Stanford Center on Longevity.

Still think it can't happen to you? The researchers are examining "age-related financial vulnerability[and]  are very interested in physical changes to the aging brain, the way eyesight and hearing can get less keen. In some cases, a new pattern of making mistakes with money may be a harbinger of cognitive bad things to come, the “first thing to go,” as it were"

Still think it can't happen to you? Read on.  The optimal age for money management is 53 years old, according to the article.  There is some advantage to age; the life experiences we acquire.  Now we all know, as the article reflects, that scams don't just target older persons.   There is no easy answer to the issue. How do you protect people from making bad decisions  or from falling for a scam?  The article references various state approaches and the federal Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act. FINRA is also asking brokers to "encourage customers to list the name of a trusted person to contact if something signals “scam.” Banks have no such rule."

The remainder of the article focuses on the responses and need for more work. Several experts offer suggestions for responses. I thought this one response was poignant: "abuse of the elderly is, at its core, lack of social support. The cure is social support. It’s possible that the best way to help vulnerable loved ones is just to be there, to be present in their lives."

Think this can't happen to you? Think again. And read this article.

May 26, 2019 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Science, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)