hand signing form.

Legal Preparedness for Aging and Caregiving

By Sharona Hoffman

During 2013 and 2014, I endured a very difficult 18 months. Both of my parents died, my mother-in-law died, and my husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 55. As I went through all of this, I learned a great deal about getting older, getting sick, facing the end of life, and caregiving. As a result of my personal experiences and my professional background as a Professor of Law and Bioethics at Case Western Reserve University, I wrote a book called Aging with a Plan: How a Little Thought Today Can Vastly Improve Your Tomorrow.

The book addresses many legal, financial, medical, social, and other support systems for aging and caregiving. In this article, I discuss the legal documents that every American adult should have. These documents can help ensure that your finances and health care are well-managed as you age and that your wishes will be followed after death.

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Person in nursing home.

Struggles Over Care Will Shape the Future of Work

By Andrew Milne

The future of work will largely be the future of care work. Health care is rapidly becoming the largest employer in the U.S., expanding to serve the fastest growing demographic, aging seniors. As a lawyer for seniors in need of free legal services, I see my clients struggle to access care made scarce by the for-profit care industry’s understaffing and underpaying of workers attempting to meet the growing need. The future of work and of aging will be shaped by struggles over care from both giving and receiving ends, perhaps against those profiting in between.

Recall that the first COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. spread between nursing homes. These facilities, like most nursing homes, are for-profit businesses that pad their margins by cutting labor costs. The resulting understaffing has deadly effects in normal times. The pandemic intensified those effects, as underpaid care workers, forced to work at multiple facilities to survive, unintentionally spread the virus between facilities.

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Top view of white cubicles in modern office with white walls and carpeted floor. 3d rendering.

Managing Cognitive Decline Concerns in the Workplace

By Sharona Hoffman

As the American population ages, employers must contend with the growing challenge of cognitive decline in the workplace.

Cognitive decline becomes more common as individuals age. The risk of Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years after age 65, and almost one-third of people over 85 have the disease. And, as detailed in my book, Aging with a Plan: How a Little Thought Today Can Vastly Improve Your Tomorrow, the American population is aging. By 2034, about 77 million people will be seniors, accounting for 21% of U.S. residents.

Additionally, many professionals work past retirement age. For example, over 31% of physicians are over 60, and 15% of attorneys are over 65. The average age of federal judges is 69.

Considered together, these trends substantiate concerns about the increasing prevalence of cognitive decline in the workplace. Recent research provides further support: when Yale New Haven Hospital tested clinicians on staff who were seventy and older, it found that almost 13% had significant cognitive deficits.

Older employees often bring a wealth of experience and highly refined skills to their jobs. They can therefore add great strength to the workforce. Yet, employees with cognitive decline can cause a multitude of complex challenges in the workplace. They can threaten workplace productivity, workforce morale, and even public safety.

How might employers address cognitive decline concerns? As I argue in my article “Cognitive Decline and the Workplace” (forthcoming in the Wake Forest Law Review), there are several options, but many are legally and ethically problematic.

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LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM- 1 APRIL 2015: A newspaper rack holding several international newspapers, such as The International New York Times, USA Today, Irish Times, Londra Sera and Corriere Della Sera.

Monthly Round-Up of What to Read on Pharma Law and Policy

By Ameet SarpatwariBeatrice Brown, Alexander EgilmanAviva Wang, and Aaron S. Kesselheim

Each month, members of the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) review the peer-reviewed medical literature to identify interesting empirical studies, policy analyses, and editorials on health law and policy issues.

Below are the citations for papers identified from the month of July. The selections feature topics ranging from a discussion of issues related to FDA’s approval of aducanumab for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, to an analysis of the communication of survival data in cancer drug labels, to an evaluation of public-sector contributions to novel biologic drugs. A full posting of abstracts/summaries of these articles may be found on our website.

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Person in nursing home.

Long-Term Care After COVID: A Roadmap for Law Reform

By Nina A. Kohn

Between May 2020 and January 2021, 94 percent of U.S. nursing homes experienced at least one COVID-19 outbreak. And nursing home residents — isolated from family and friends, dependent on staff often tasked with providing care to far more residents than feasible, and sometimes crowded into rooms with three or more people — succumbed the virus at record rates. By March 2021, nursing home residents accounted for a quarter of all U.S. COVID-19-related deaths.

The poor conditions in nursing homes that have been exposed by the pandemic are symptomatic of long-standing problems in the industry.

Fortunately, as I discuss in-depth in a new essay in the Georgetown Law Journal Online, there are a series of practical reforms that could readily improve the quality of nursing home care, in large part by changing the incentives for nursing home providers.

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Senior citizen woman in wheelchair in a nursing home.

Telehealth and the Future of Long-Term Care

Join us on Wednesday, April 7 for further discussion of these issues during our virtual event, “Triumphs & Tensions of the Telehealth Boom.

By Tara Sklar

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the trend away from providing health care and long-term care in institutional settings in ways not previously imagined; the result of a reckoning with the massacre that disproportionately killed hundreds of thousands of older adults living in nursing homes or similar congregate facilities, along with the staff who cared for them.

Beyond the immediate staffing and infection control issues at hand, this juncture leads to a larger question, in the U.S. and abroad: how can we best care for an older population in the decades — and not just years — ahead?

The major advances and shortfalls that have surfaced during the pandemic around telehealth and its related technologies in digital home health care are essential to this discussion.

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Illustration of a senior woman walking with modern robot dog

Exploring Elder Care Robotics: Emotional Companion Robots

By Adriana Krasniansky

This article is the first post in a four-part series looking at robots being developed for aging care, as well as their ethical implications. In this first article, we explore the rise of emotional companion robots such as the now-famous Paro, which are designed to soothe and comfort. 

What are Emotional Companion Robots?

Emotional companion robots deliver on a very basic definition of the term “companionship:” they provide emotional soothing and a constant presence for users. Many emotional companion robots are modeled after animal-assisted therapy (AAT) pets, which are trained to calm and support individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and cognitive impairments.

AAT in elder care can be challenging; animals risk injury to patients, trigger allergies, and require regular exercise (and bathroom breaks). Animals may also refuse to cooperate, which can further agitate patients. Emotional companion robots have similar demonstrated outcomes to AAT—reducing stress, improving mood, and stimulating conversation—without the logistical hang-ups of animal care.  Read More

The Danger of Speaking for the Dying Patient with “Intellectual Disabilities”

After suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for more than two decades, my grandma quietly passed away at a nursing home in California several years ago. This may sound like a story too common to tell in the United States. However, my grandma never wanted to go to a nursing home in the first place. As someone who spent the majority of her life in China, she only immigrated to the United States to reunite with her family after my grandpa passed. When her conditions first developed, her own children (my extended family who lived with her) considered her a burden and liability, and sent her away against her will – a stark violation of Confucian filial piety cherished in my culture. After being admitted to a public nursing home with very few Mandarin speaking staff and patients, her condition deteriorated rapidly, partly as a result of language barriers and general isolation from family and friends. She soon lost most of her basic functioning and remained in a borderline vegetative state for the last few years of her life.

I could not help but think about my grandma when I read a recently published piece in New York Times. In “A Harder Death for People with Intellectual Disabilities,” Tim Lahey, M.D., argues that current laws make it too difficult for the “loved ones” and legal guardians of patients with “intellectual disabilities” to make end-of-life decisions on behalf of patients who cannot speak for themselves. Based on his own experience with patients in intensive care units, he criticizes the burdensome legal procedures required in some states to allow legal guardians to “decline life-sustaining therapies” and medical providers to “avoid giving unwanted care that isn’t likely to heal” these patients. From his point of view, questions a judge may ask such as “how sure is the guardian or family member of the patient’s wishes?” and “what’s the doctors’ best estimate at a prognosis?” are slowing down the “prompt, patient-centered, bedside care that all of us deserve.” Read More

Loneliness as epidemic

By Wendy S. Salkin

Just a few weeks ago, The New York Times ran an article confirming that, indeed, we are facing an epidemic of loneliness. There is “mounting evidence” that links loneliness to illness, as well as “functional and cognitive decline.” What’s more, loneliness turns out to be a better predictor of early death than obesity.

Neuroscientist John Cacioppo, who has spent much of his career working on loneliness, defines “loneliness” as “perceived social isolation.” Similarly, Masi, et al. (following Russell, et al. 1980) define “loneliness” as “the discrepancy between a person’s desired and actual social relationships.” As Masi, et al., point out, there is a distinction to be made between loneliness, on the one hand, and social isolation, on the other, although the two phenomena may indeed often go together. Whereas social isolation “reflects an objective measure of social interactions and relationships,” loneliness “reflects perceived social isolation or outcast.” Following Peplau & Perlman 1982 and Wheeler, et al. 1983, they go on to point out that “loneliness is more closely associated with the quality than the number of relationships.” (It’s important and timely to note that the 2016 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Bob Dylan, brought out one application of this conceptual distinction in his song, “Marchin’ to the City,” when he sang: “Loneliness got a mind of its own / The more people around the more you feel alone.”)

The health risks posed by loneliness are several and can be severe. Loneliness can contribute to increased risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. In a 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis in Heart, Valtorta, et al., reported that “poor social relationships were associated with a 29% increase in risk of incident CHD [coronary heart disease] and a 32% increase in risk of stroke.” And in a March 2015 meta-analysis in Perspectives on Psychological Science, Holt-Lunstad, et al., reported that a substantial body of evidence supports the following two claims:

  1. Loneliness puts one at greater risk for premature mortality. In particular, “the increased likelihood of death was 26% for reported loneliness, 29% for social isolation, and 32% for living alone.”
  2. The heightened risk for mortality due to “a lack of social relationships” (whether reported loneliness, social isolation, or living alone) is greater than the risk due to obesity.

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