Observing World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, June 15, 2018

A Wee Highland coo…

WEEAD is Friday! If you want to show support in social media for this day, try this Thunderclap link to add your voice.  I write this post after a move to a new office, which is comfortable and spacious, where I am nestled amidst tenants who are friendly and engaging.  It has happens to be just a few blocks from where I attended junior high school.

Community has many definitions depending on the various contexts of our interactions with each other and where we are interacting with each other.  A big part of community is seeing the other person and being seen by another. Being seen is something we take for granted.  Last week, a man hid himself under the front of a public bus, which then dragged the man’s body nearly half a mile until coming to a stop.  This took place on the street where my office is located, right in front of my office window.  But I didn’t see it happen.  The bus driver obviously didn’t see the man, which ended in the man’s tragic death.  It seems that our ability to see one another is becoming increasingly more difficult.

WEEAD – Prevention of Elder Abuse Begins with Seeing Elders as a Contributing Part of Our Community

In our world, seeing is a precursor to engaging with the other.  Engagement can lead to effective participation.  Take a look at this link to The Road to Elder Justice Virtual Art Gallery with many beautiful expressions of what elders contribute.  On this WEEAD, events are scheduled in nearly every state to raise awareness.  Check out this event organized by the Boulder County Area Agency on Aging.  Here’s a link to a Facebook Live broadcast today at 5:00 p.m. MDT about how the Office of the Inspector General at the Social Security Administration detects and prevents suspected elder financial exploitation  and how people can protect themselves and others from mistreatment.

A question follows: what do we see about elder abuse and how do we see it?

One helpful resource has identified the beliefs about elder abuse as “the swamp:” which includes limiting beliefs (often mistaken for conventional wisdom…) such as:

modern life is the problem – we simply don’t care enough about older people so caregivers are pushed to the limit and older people are devalued;

there are not enough resources for any solutions – there is not enough money for prosecution and surveillance of perpetrators, or raising awareness and education about elder abuse to help recognize it or for providing support for caregivers and as a result, nothing can really be done;

the individuals affected are really the problem – perhaps these elders had it coming as payback, many older people are difficult to deal with or have personal weaknesses, the perpetrators are greedy, lazy, opportunistic, or bad people who cannot be deterred, and we’re either all responsible for it or no one is;

elder abuse is vaguely defined and hard to recognize for many people – elder abuse as such is not acceptable, but many forms of neglect don’t qualify as abuse, including sexual abuse of elder women.

This ”swamp” thinking described above is hardly “thinking”, as these represent only relatively common types of limiting beliefs like: universalizing a problem to inflate its significance and make “solving” it impossible; personalizing elder abuse to make it only about certain types of individuals who are affected; catastrophizing it so that the only “response” can be hand-wringing; and making unrealistic or false distinctions about what is acceptable behavior and what is not so as to make identification of the real problem impossible.

We Must Refuse to Accept That Elderhood is Only About Loss and Marginalization

Like the “swamp thinking” above, many of us have unexamined beliefs about what it means to be “old.”  These beliefs can reflect scarcity beliefs and thinking about the world each of us lives in.  Those beliefs can dictate what we see in elders and how their role in society is marginalized. In this respect, the marginalization of elders as a kind of “lesser than” or “has been” segment of our culture and economy becomes a kind of collective self-fulfilling prophecy.  Sociologist Robert K. Merton coined that phrase in 1948 with these terms:

The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the original false conception come true. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning.

Looking at the relationship between our diminished expectations of what is possible in elderhood and what we expect to see, based on our expectations, generally leads to …  These expectations become the self-fulfilling prophecy, for ourselves and for others.  But, this challenge becomes an opportunity to change our perspective and change our minds.

There are good resources available that help us to reframe the story of elder abuse from one based on inevitable decline, vulnerability and victimhood to a story from a different perspective, reframed to tell of empowering ourselves and elders to engage with and participate in pro-social activities designed to strengthens the ties which already exist – instead of disowning them because of some of the difficulties we have come to experience.

I will write more about pro-social behaviors we can nurture and support to prevent elder abuse – as individuals and collectively.

© 2018 Barbara Cashman  www.DenverElderLaw.org

Are There Alternatives to Guardianship for an Elder with Dementia?

Abacus of Glass Beads

I’m taking a look at the alternatives to unrestricted or plenary guardianship as a result of reading my latest issue of the ABA’s Bifocal magazine, in which the ABA’s House of Delegates adopted Resolution 113, urging states and other legislatures to amend guardianship statutes to consider less restrictive alternative to unrestricted or plenary guardianships of incapacitated adults and to require consideration of putting into place decision making supports that would allow a person the right to supported decision making as an alternative to (or reason for termination of) guardianship of an adult. I found the topic thought-provoking, particularly in light of a recently approved uniform law which contains many references to supported decision making.

In Colorado, an Incapacitated adult is defined our Probate Code at C.R.S. §15-14-102(5) as one

who is unable to effectively receive or evaluate information or both or make or communicate decisions to such an extent that the individual lacks the ability to satisfy essential requirements for physical health, safety, or self-care, even with appropriate and reasonably available technological assistance.

The definition comes from the Uniform Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Act, or CUGPPA in Colorado.  Below I’ll take a brief look at a continuum of less restrictive alternatives to implement in the making of decisions for persons who may be or become incapacitated (but not necessarily determined to be such by a probate court in protective proceedings).

First, I’ll note that each of these aspects of functional capacity and incapacity implicate a person’s rights to self-determination.  Self-determination is a broad topic. The principle of self-determination is prominently enshrined in Article I of the Charter of the United Nations.  It remains a concern under international law due to the fact that there are peoples who are not necessarily represented by the nation in which they find themselves.  For an adult who suffers from a progressive condition or disease process that results in cognitive impairment, there really isn’t such a stretch here to say that a person with dementia is at risk of being “colonized” or have their rights self-determination effectively erased by a legal determination of incapacity.  Here I’m talking about self-determination in the medical, and personal preferences context (concerning levels of care or autonomy, as well as choice of the setting in which one lives). The UN Convention of the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD), also speaks about supported decision making and you can read more about it here.

The medical or health care POA

I’m focusing on the medical POA here because Colorado’s protective proceeding for a person’s property is known as a conservatorship.  A conservatorship is often not necessary if a person has made effective POA naming an agent and the relationship is working and not otherwise under threat from an interloper.  But. . .  keep in mind that sometimes a non-agent family member or friend can take advantage of a person more easily if there is no court-imposed protection of the person’s property. Ah, there’s that ugly head of patriarchal protection (in the form of parens patriae, the power of the state to act as guardian for those who are unable to protect or care for themselves) again!

Bottom line is that, when people (sometimes known as “patients”) make their wishes known in advance to family members or others and empower another to decide for them as the person’s agent in a MDPOA , that empowerment alone can often lead to better outcomes.  But the fact remains that many of us choose not to choose to name an agent. So what’s next? In Colorado there are also proxy decision makers, which we might consider as “de facto” decision makers under applicable Colorado law.  So, that brings us to the next item. . .

Supported decision making – an intermediate ground . . .  or no man’s land?

This item is specifically included in the newly minted 2017 version of the Uniform Law Commission’s UGPPA, er UGCPAA (Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship and Other Protective Arrangements Act) at §101(13) where it is listed as one of the “less restrictive alternatives” to guardianship.   In the proposed UGCOPAA, supported decision making means “assistance from one or more persons of an individual’s choosing” (§102(13)); and is added to the end of the above stated definition of incapacity – to read “unable to effectively receive and evaluate information or make or communicate decisions, even with appropriate supportive services, technological assistance, or supported decision making” (§301(a)(1)(A)); is an appropriate consideration for a court visitor to include in the report (§304(d)(2)); for inclusion in the court’s order appointing a guardian (§310(a)(1)); as one of the rights retained by an otherwise incapacitated adult, to “be involved in health care decision making to the extent reasonably feasible. . .  (§311(a)(3)); and in other examples perhaps appropriate for a later blog post. . . .

What are some standards for supported decision making, which is related to “person centered” planning (now part of the Medicare rules, incidentally)?

This alternative sounds all well and good Barb, but what about those elders with dementia whose cognitive impairments are likely to worsen?  Is it realistic to devise a plan for this supported decision making?  After all, those folks are arguably in a situation different from developmentally disabled adults who may can live independently and working in the community, so long as there are community supports.  But I think this is a less restrictive alternative that is seriously underutilized due to the simple fact that people aren’t used to the idea and it is challenging to identify what it might entail and look like in an alternative to probate court protective proceedings or as part of a court’s order granting a limited or restricted guardianship.

Limited guardianship

This one is pretty self-explanatory.  Only certain identified matters are under the authority of a court-appointed guardian and the rest of the rights are reserved to or preserved in the “ward.”  The tricky part with this is an important detail – scarce judicial resources.  Most courts are not anxious to re-examine how supported decision making or a limited guardianship is working and re-tool it as needed.  Most courts have a difficult enough time simply monitoring those guardians!

Plenary or unrestricted guardianship

This is the norm in this country, regardless of lip service in statutes or case law concerning less restrictive alternatives.  But if we are to truly attempt to accomplish guardianship reform, we (courts, elder law attorneys, service providers and other resources) must work together to fashion a viable alternative to what has become the quick and dirty, default request in a guardianship proceeding involving an elder with dementia who may be in the future or already is “incapacitated.”  Stay tuned for more on this topic in the future.

© 2017 Barbara Cashman  www.DenverElderLaw.org

Solstice and Death Denial

Night Lights

Solstice is an astronomical event, a phenomenon occurring biannually which marks two extremes: the shortest day of the year (today) and the longest day of the year. Its meaning derives from the Latin: sol for sun of course and stice meaning standing still in that the sun stops before it reverses its direction.  All cultures in the world have noted or somehow marked the occurrence of the solstice, but each has historically come away with different forms of its observance.

I’m writing about solstice today for a couple reasons I suppose. One is its reminder of constant change in our natural world.  There is always some movement in this life – a lengthening and a shortening, a moving toward and a moving away from, but it often seems that many of us would rather insist on holding onto something a bit more concrete, that we can touch, hold or identify as familiar.  Most of us do not welcome change with open arms because it represent the unknown, about which we can never be too certain.

In the coming months I will be writing more about a favorite theme of mine – the denial of death.  This denial of death which we endorse and glorify in our culture, often unwittingly, is essentially a denial of life.  We can’t have one without the other.  So how do we manage this uncertainty which often presents as anxiety – either on a personal or collective level?  Many of us will simply choose to react, to prepare for what we think is inevitable in our minds – as if we can predict the future.  Of course many of us can predict the future in that the narrowness of our ability to see the world in front of us is such that our field of vision is limited to only those things which we want to see.

This closing up, this denial of what we don’t want to accept, what we are not willing to see and what we have told ourselves we would never accept is in many ways like a solstice.  Our world shrinks down to what is manageable under the circumstances, the mystery and uncertainty of what we can’t control is simply too much for many of us.  But what if the unknown, the uncertainty is our best teacher?  How might we respond to it? I think of a favorite quote of David Steindl-Rast:

The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful;

it is gratitude that makes us joyful.

You can watch Brother David’s Ted Talk here.

I have written about gratitude and gratefulness a number of times.  In our culture, we tend to be focused almost exclusively on the personal losses faced in elderhood: the loss of autonomy as a result of physical, mental or emotional difficulties or challenges; the loss of purpose in that many of us no longer feel we are contributing members of a community; and the loss of engagement in life. I believe that successful elderhood is possible and desirable, amidst all the difficulties, pessimism and “conventional wisdom” (or insanity, depending on your point of view) – perhaps even as a result of all these challenges.  This is what I will be writing more about in 2017.  I am grateful for this opportunity to write about this, for each of you that reads a post of mine and particularly to those who comment or send me an email about a post.  Happy solstice day today and may your days be lengthened in joy and deepened in purpose.

© Barbara E. Cashman 2016   www.DenverElderLaw.org