Aging in the Legal Profession

Age related dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s, typically begins to appear in individuals who are 60 or older. Starting at age 65, the risk of developing the disease doubles every five years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25-50% of the 85-and-older population exhibits some signs of Alzheimer’s or age-related dementia. (www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/basics/mental-illness/dementia.htm)

The unavoidable conclusion is that as lawyers age and remain in practice, statistically a greater number will experience cognitive impairments, as well as significant medical problems, such as heart disease and strokes.

The LAP’s hope is to reach the aging lawyer before their condition becomes a discipline issue.

Depression
Depression is not a normal part of aging. When older adults do have depression, it may be overlooked because they may show less obvious symptoms and may be less likely to experience or admit to feelings of sadness or grief.

In some cases it can be difficult to distinguish grief from major depression. Grief after the loss of a loved one is a normal reaction to that loss and generally doesn’t require mental health treatment.

According to the DSM 5, in distinguishing grief from a major depressive episode (MDE), it is useful to consider in grief the predominant affect is feelings of emptiness and loss, while in MDE it is persistent depressed mood and the inability to anticipate happiness or pleasure. The dysphoria in grief is likely to decrease in intensity over days to weeks and occurs in waves. These waves tend to be associated with thoughts and reminders of the deceased. The depressed mood of MDE is more persistent and tied to specific thoughts or preoccupations.

There are also more medical conditions which may cause depressive symptoms and medications with side effects that contribute to depression in older adults.

Depression is treatable and most older adults with depression improve when they receive treatment with and antidepressant, psychotherapy, or a combination of both.

Related Resources

Louisiana Bar Journal Articles by Buddy Stockwell:
February/March 2013 – Aging in the Legal Profession
Read more LSBA articles written by Buddy Stockwell >>

Related Web Links:
ABA: How to Recognize and Manage Cognitive Impairment in Aging Lawyers
Administration on Aging
Alliance for Aging Research
Alzheimer’s Association
Alzheimer’s Association – Louisiana Chapter
CDC – Alzheimer’s or Age-Related Dementia
Center on Aging, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Dept of Health and Human Services – Administration on Aging
International Senior Lawyers Project
Mayo Clinic – Aging: What to Expect
Mayo Clinic – Mild Cognitive Decline
National Council on Aging
National Institute of Health Senior Health
National Institute on Aging
Washington State Bar – Ending Your Practice/Retirement Considerations
Video – HBO’s The Alzheimer Project

Selt-Assessment Tests:
Brief Cognitive Assessment Tools
Montreal Cognitive Assestment Test
SAGE Test – designed to detect early signs of cognitive, memory or thinking impairments