News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

Mission

The speed of technology in neuroscience as it impacts ethical and just decisions in the legal system needs to be understood by lawyers, judges, public policy makers, and the general public. The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior is an academic and professional resource for the education, research, and understanding of neuroscience and the law. Read more

In Alzheimer’s Cases, Financial Ruin and Abuse Are Always Lurking

By Paul Sullivan | January 30, 2015 | The New York Times “Your Money” “Wealth Matters”

Midway through the film “Still Alice,” which tracks the growing grip of Alzheimer’s on a 50-something Columbia University professor, that professor, played by Julianne Moore, stands at a lectern to address an Alzheimer’s conference. She is holding a yellow highlighter and a copy of her speech.

She proceeds to talk about her struggles with the disease and how she never knows what will vanish from her memory and when. It’s a lucid, affecting talk, and the viewer would be hard pressed to know anything was wrong with her, if not for the highlighter. She uses it to track her every word so she doesn’t read the same sentence over and over again.

For anyone who has ever watched a family member disappear into Alzheimer’s, Ms. Moore’s performance is gripping, particularly as her tricks to stall her decline inevitably fail and the later stages of the disease consume her. Yet the movie is also a great vessel to explore many of the financial issues that families need to address when someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or any other disease that causes cognitive impairment.

Continue reading »

When Frontotemporal Dementia Leads to Crime—Prosecution or Protection?

By Jessica Shugart | Alz Forum | January 13, 2015

For some, it starts with stealing candy. For others, it’s a reckless car crash, or a sudden penchant to urinate in public. The type of incident varies, but according to a study published January 5 in JAMA Neurology, more than a third of people with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) act out criminal behaviors. In some cases, the odd conduct is the first clear signal to their loved ones that something is way off. Led by Bruce Miller at the University of California, San Francisco, the study also reported bad behavior in people with Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases; however, those patients’ misconduct tended to surface later in the disease and to a lesser degree than it did in people with FTD. The study raises questions about how the criminal justice system should handle people with FTD and, even more pressingly, concerns about the plight of undiagnosed patients who may be languishing in prisons or on the streets. Continue reading »

Pair allegedly swindled $450,000 meant for cat

John R. Ellement | The Boston Globe | April 17, 2014

Two Brighton roommates allegedly concocted a brazen scheme to bilk an ailing, elderly neighbor of $450,000 by agreeing to use the money to care for the woman’s beloved cat as long as it lived.

But instead of safeguarding the assets for the pet, a tabby named Puddy Cat, the two women are accused of going on a spending spree, buying a $28,000 Mini Cooper car, an iPad, a Vitamix blender, and a Netflix subscription — all while the 74-year-old woman, who suffers from dementia, was in a nursing home. They also siphoned off tens of thousands of dollars in cash, Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Michele Granda said in Suffolk Superior Court Thursday.

Protecting our Parents: Can Science Help?

High-profile schemes to defraud the elderly of their lifetime savings have headlined top newspapers and tabloids alike. There was Brooke Astor, whose son and attorney were convicted of criminal fraud, Anna Nicole Smith and the fight over J. Edgar Marshall’s inheritance, and Huguette Clark, a multi-billionaire who lived for years in a hospital and whose death prompted a criminal investigation into her donations and inheritance. Unfortunately, these notorious cases are merely the tip of a vast and growing iceberg of financial fraud against the elderly. In 2011, Metlife Mature Market Institute estimated an annual loss of $2.9 billion in fraud against elders. Recent surveys indicate that more than 7.3 million Americans over 65 have been victims of financial fraud. As crime rates — and vulnerable populations — increase, the scientific and legal communities must pool our ever-increasing knowledge and resources to protect elderly family members.

Read the full article on the Huffington Post, published February 21, 2014. By Bruce H. Price, MD and Ekaterina Pivovarova, PhD. Written with Judith G. Edersheim, JD, MD.

For further resources on elder fraud and decision making, see the reference materials from our December 2013 event Capacity, Decision-Making and the Elderly: Brain Science Meets the Law, and follow-up article in the Boston Globe “Scammers take aim at aging population,” by event moderator and Globe reporter Kay Lazar.

 

A lesser-known dementia that steals personality

By Erika Hayasaki | The Atlantic | January 9, 2014

While Alzheimer’s usually affects older people, and is detected as a person begins to lose memory, frontotemporal dementia causes people to lose their personalities first, and usually hits in the prime of their lives — the 30s, 40s, and 50s.

Over the last decade, new research in patients with frontotemporal dementia and other illnesses, has helped neuroscientists understand more about the roles different parts of the brain play in where our personalities come from.

A study released in October by Dr. Brad Dickerson, [Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett,] and colleagues at Harvard Medical School in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry pinpointed regions in the brain that showed atrophy from frontotemporal dementia and found that those with the most damage to the “perception network” (amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, superior temporal, and fusiform cortex) also showed the most prominent difficulty responding to social cues, facial expressions, and eye gaze, and had the most trouble interpreting gestures and body language—the kind of cues that sarcasm relies on.

Read the full article at The Atlantic Monthly.