CLBB Executive Director Dr. Francis Shen presented his work on the ethics of emerging neurotechnologies and their criminal justice implications to the Science Policy Group at UC Berkeley. The Science Policy Group is composed of policy-minded scientists who are committed to bridging gaps between science, technology, policy, and equity.
CLBB Co-Director and Co-Founder Judith Edersheim, JD, MD presented at the 3rd Annual Carol W. Taylor Grand Rounds, sponsored by the Massachusetts General Hospital Psychiatry Academy.
Dr. Edersheim explained that for centuries, the law has been premised on a now outdated model of mental activity which is derived from a combination of philosophical theories of mind and stereotyped inferences from observed behavior. Modern neuroscience, with its ability to reveal the neurobiologic foundations of human behavior, has begun to influence legal standards, with the potential to revolutionize the law and promote just legal outcomes. This lecture briefly reviewed current legal conceptions of mental activity and the use of case studies to demonstrate how recent discoveries in the fields of adolescent neurodevelopment and the neurobiology of substance use have already begun to advance fairness and equity in the legal system. Watch the lecture here.
CLBB Student Research Assistants Fenella McLuskie, Sina Sadeghzadeh, and Oliver Q. Sussman on The Forgotten: Juveniles In Detention During COVID-19 in The Harvard Crimson. Fenella McLuskie is a first-year student at Harvard Law School. Sina Sadeghzadeh ’21 is a Neuroscience concentrator in Dunster House. Oliver Q. Sussman ’21 is a Neuroscience concentrator in Pforzheimer House.
With more than two million people affected worldwide, the novel coronavirus is exposing social inequities. In a study of COVID-19 and youth, about 90 percent of infected children developed mild to moderate symptoms while only 0.6 percent suffered more severe complications. Yet true to the theme of exacerbated inequality, some populations of youth are at a higher risk than this overall average would suggest.
Compared to other children, children in the juvenile justice system are disproportionately more likely to have compromised immunity, asthma, and other underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk for developing acute coronavirus complications. While there has been much attention paid to different vulnerable populations in our society, juvenile detainees, as usual, are often left out of the conversation. Keep reading …
CLBB Advisory Board Member Attorney John Reinstein and CLBB Managing Director Judge (Ret.) Nancy Gertner published this Op-Ed in the Boston Globe on March 23, 2020:
Prisons are Petri dishes for disease in the best of times, but they could become incubators for COVID-19 now. Prisoners sleep, eat, and shower in enclosed quarters with limited ventilation. Social distancing is impossible. Prison populations also have greater rates of serious health problems than the general population. Many are elderly, and have diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and cancer, conditions that, if they become infected with COVID-19, make them more likely to require intensive care and especially vulnerable to dying of the disease.
COVID-19 is introducing unparalleled challenges for older adults. In addition to being especially vulnerable to severe complications from the novel coronavirus, savings of older adults are now being targeted by well-organized predators with the aid of computer access to potential victims.
Why are older adults being targeted, and what can we do to protect them? CLBB’s Co-Founder and Co-Director, Dr. Bruce Price offers expert advice on elder justice during this pandemic.
As brains age, our decision-making circuitry changes too. As detailed in CLBB’s 2018 conference, “Our Aging Brains: What is Dementia? Definitions, Diagnosis, and Treatment,” experts have identified four general trajectories of aging. The fortunate 10–20% experience “Super Aging,” in which individuals have little, if any, cognitive decline. More elders experience “Normal Cognitive Aging,” which consists of some degree of age-related cognitive decline, but generally does not significantly impact daily life. Other elderly people experience “Mild Cognitive Impairment,” in which there is accelerated cognitive decline without major impairments of daily functioning. Finally, 30-50% experience Pathologic Aging, known as “Dementia,” where individuals exhibit accelerated cognitive decline with major impairment of daily functioning. Understanding the various paths of aging helps us recognize and understand differences we see in our loved ones as they grow older.
Cognitive impairments decrease a person’s capacity to make decisions. As a result, opportunists can exploit vulnerabilities in people with cognitive deficits, in particular those who are lonely, isolated from family during quarantine, and lacking access to online and in-person support resources. COVID-19 can also cause confusion, the inability to sustain a coherent stream of thought.
Aging brains respond differently to salient emotional stimuli, and older adults may be especially vulnerable to scams that trigger emotions. COVID-19 elicits fear particularly amongst older populations who are at greater risk. Intense emotions surrounding the pandemic on top of cognitive decline, isolation and loneliness make the current situation very risky.
When quarantined, older adults without Internet access will likely connect to the outside world through a family member or caretaker. Unfortunately, much of the fraudulent behavior against older adults is the result of undue influence from these trusted individuals. Given the economic downturn, it is not hard to imagine desperate relatives or caretakers tempted to prey upon an elder’s savings.
It is also easy to overlook cognitive decline to convince oneself and others that everything is fine. But we need to be vigilant. Family members, legal authorities and health care providers may erroneously conclude that complex judgement and decision-making remain intact when, in fact, they do not.
In sum, we should remain vigilant, but calm. Rather than becoming overly anxious about someone taking advantage of a loved one, stay aware and be on the lookout for these three signs of concern.
First, is the individual misspending cash or investments? Are they spending in ways that you think they would not normally spend, if they were cognitively intact? If so, it may be a warning sign and further investigation is warranted.
Second, are there signs of apathy? Apathy is one of the most common early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, evident in 70-80% of people. Apathy includes diminished interest, diminished motivation and persistence, diminished concern, withdrawal, and disengagement. These changes in cognition greatly effect one’s ability to avoid financial fraud and be cognizant of undue influence.
Third, if living alone, are normal daily tasks being completed? Do they complete normal tasks, such as food shopping, paying bills, having consistent meals, and attending their doctor’s appointments? Forgetting important newly learned information may be a sign that your loved one is experiencing cognitive decline, which leaves them more vulnerable to scams. Additionally, an early sign of cognitive problems can be more frequent car accidents, specifically fender-benders, due to a decline in cognitive processing.
Amidst the chaos of COVID-19, paying attention to major warning signs and routinely checking in with our older loved ones is a good way to keep them safe and to maintain your own peace of mind.