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

Protecting Older Adults from Financial Scams Amidst COVID-19

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.

WATCH: Our Aging Brains: Decision-making, Fraud, and Undue Influence

With over 70 million Baby Boomers retiring, elder financial exploitation has been labeled the “Crime of the 21st Century.” In this half-day event, we will explore the neuroscience, psychology, and legal doctrine of financial decision-making in older adults. How does the aging brain make financial decisions, and when is it uniquely susceptible? How can courts best use science to improve their adjudication of disputes over “competency”, “capacity”, and “undue influence”? Is novel neuroimaging evidence of dementia ready for courtroom use? This conference will bring together experts in medicine, science, and law to explore these important questions and chart a path forward for dementia and the law.

 

Agenda

8:00 – 8:30am, Registration

A continental breakfast will be available.

8:30 – 8:45am, Introduction

  • Judith G. Edersheim, JD, MD, Co-Founder and Co-Director, Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital; Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; attending Psychiatrist, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Carmel Shachar, JD, MPH, Executive Director, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics and Lecturer in Law, Harvard Law School
  • Francis X. Shen, JD, PhD, Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience, the Petrie-Flom Center in Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics, Harvard Law School and the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital and Associate Professor of Law and McKnight Land-Grant Professor, University of Minnesota Law School

8:45 – 9:30am, What is Dementia? Definitions, Diagnosis, and Treatment

  • Bruce H. Price, MD, Chief, Department of Neurology at McLean Hospital; Associate in Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital; Associate Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School; Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior, Massachusetts General Hospital

9:30 – 9:45am, In Pursuit of Elder Justice

9:45 – 10:00am, Break

10:00 – 11:15am, Dementia and the Law: Challenges and Opportunities

  • Jennifer A. Moye, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; Associate Director of Education and Evaluation, New England Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center, Boston and Bedford VA
  • Ray D. Madoff, JD, Professor, Boston College Law School
  • Peter A. Lichtenberg, PhD, ABPP, Professor, Department of Psychology and Director, Institute of Gerontology, Wayne State University
  • Daniel Marson, JD, PhD, Professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

11:15am – 12:10pm, Future Directions: The Aging Brain and Financial Decision-Making

  • Gregory Samanez-Larkin, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University
  • Duke Han, PhD, Director of Neuropsychology, Department of Family Medicine and Associate Professor of Family Medicine, Neurology, Psychology, and Gerontology, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California
  • Judith G. Edersheim, JD, MD, Co-Founder and Co-Director, Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital; Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; attending Psychiatrist, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital

12:15 – 12:30pm, A Path Forward

  • Francis X. Shen, JD, PhD, Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience, the Petrie-Flom Center in Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics, Harvard Law School and the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital and Associate Professor of Law and McKnight Land-Grant Professor, University of Minnesota Law School

The Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience is a collaboration between the MGH Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

Watch a video of this event:

WATCH — The Vulnerable Brain

161215_the-vulnerable-brain

Click poster to RSVP.

As the American population ages, the medical and legal systems will have to balance concerns about protecting the elderly from fraud and victimization with fundamental autonomy rights. In this event, the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior will present a case that concerns a tragic trajectory caused by undetected brain disease and discuss both missed opportunities to intervene and the implications for legal and social policy. Weaving a narrative that highlights the subject’s personal life and neurological decline, experts in psychiatry, law, and neurology will consider: what can be done to protect the vulnerable, aging brain?

Examining everything from forensic reports, to medical records, to a literal brain, CLBB Co-Director Dr. Judith Edersheim and CLBB Faculty Member Dr. Brad Dickerson (of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School) will tell a story that exemplifies how vulnerable an ailing, elderly person can be. CLBB Co-Director Dr. Bruce Price will join as a discussant during the Q&A session with the audience.

This event will be held on Thursday, December 15, 2016, at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Bornstein Amphitheater, from 7:00-8:30 pm.

Make sure to RSVP before the event!

This event is free and open to the public. A brief reception will precede the event from 6:30-7:00 PM. Continue reading »

The Dialectic Between Empathy and Violence: An Opportunity for Intervention?

By Doriana Chialant, Judith Edersheim, and Bruce Price | The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences | January 11, 2016

Abstract:

The authors provide a comprehensive review of the neurobiology of empathy and compare this with the neurobiology of psychopathic predatory violence—the most extreme deficit of empathy. This suggests that the specific areas of the prefrontal cortex and limbic system, which have been associated with violent behavior, also appear to subserve the capacity for empathy. Damage to these regions may result in the emergence of aggression, but not of empathy, suggesting a structurally inverse relationship between the two. The authors examine the evidence for a dialectic between empathy and predatory violence and explore the implications for early interventions with empathy training in treatment-resistant psychopathy.

Read the full article here.

Dr. Bruce Price to Speak on the Future of Behavioral Neurology

CLBB Co-Director Bruce Price will be the Keynote Speaker at the Groupe de Reserche sur la maladie d’Alzheimer XXIXth Congress in Marseille, France on January 29, 2016. His speech, “The Future of Behavioral Neurology in the 21st Century”, will highlight CLBB as a model of cross-disciplinary collaboration. He will be giving similar talks at BIDMC and North Shore Hospital psychiatry grand rounds and the annual Derek Denny-Brown lecture of the Boston Society for Neurology and Psychiatry.

More information can be found out about the event here.

Congratulations to Dr. Price!