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July 18, 2022

July 2022 Director's Column

David Godfrey, JD

The PDF in which this article appears can be found here.

The Commission on Law and Aging strives to understand the big picture of law and aging so that we can create resources and training to enhance the lives of adults as we age.  There are many more issues and ideas that we would love to work on if we had funding.  This column gives me an opportunity to talk about some of them.

Protecting the Rights of Adults

Elizabeth Moran will talk about this more in depth, but her time at the 7th World Congress on Adult Capacity in Scotland highlighted efforts to empower adults with neurocognitive differences around the world.  Charlie Sabatino had worked for several years before his refocus (retirement) with other ABA advocates on a possible UN policy on the rights of older adults.  The United States lags behind many other countries in protecting the human rights of adults as we age and persons with disabilities.   

Student Interns

We have a long history of hosting student interns. We have two law students this summer. Maggie Roberts from Georgetown has been building a database on supported decision making and other less restrictive alternatives to guardianship. George Shalloway, from the University of Maryland, is analyzing all proposed or passed guardianship reform legislation in the past year. Noah Austin an undergrad at American University has been doing an independent research project on voter assistance for voters with disabilities. Interns help us get so much more work done.  Their brilliance and skills give me great hope for the future of the discipline.  

Persons Living with Dementia and the Criminal Legal System

We released the full report of our research into the experiences of Persons Living with Dementia in the Criminal Legal system on June 15. The report is the starting point for advocacy to change the system that groups persons with dementia with persons with mental illness, the increase in persons with dementia in the correctional system, and the lack of placement opportunities for diversion or parole for persons with dementia. 

National Aging and Law Conference

NALC will be virtual on November 9, 10 and 11.  The agenda is coming together. We should have registration open in August.  The list price is $150, but discounted to $125 for ABA members, legal aid, public interest, government and academic attendees. 

Caregivers and a Silver Lining to Covid 19?

I was talking with a friend recently about family caregiving. Estimates are that between 80% and 90% of all long-term care is provided in the community by volunteer family members and friends.  Many caregivers cut back hours or leave the paid workplace to concentrate on providing loving care at home. The public resources for family caregivers tend to focus on caregiving skills, wellness, respite, and home-health. Those are important, but little attention is paid to the economics of family caregivers. 

Caregiving disproportionately impacts women. Women are more likely than men to reduce hours or leave the paid workforce to be caregivers. This is a gender-based bias that we need to eliminate as a society.  For caregivers of older adults this often happens during the peak earning years of the caregiver. (And for caregivers of children it happens during the years when most workers are building work experience and a career.) The result is a reduction in earnings, resulting in lower Social Security benefits, reduced pension benefits and retirement savings.  It is a contributing factor for women having lower incomes in retirement.  Caregivers often pay a lifelong price for being unpaid caregivers. 

If there is a silver lining to Covid-19, it was proving that a lot of jobs can be done remotely.  Many workplaces have been changed forever.  Employers are offering much more liberal remote or hybrid work arrangements.  Remote or hybrid work won’t work for every job, but for those where it will work, employers and caregivers should be encouraged to fully explore how to use it to empower caregivers.  Flexibility by employers is needed. Caregiving does not fit into a 9 to 5 schedule, and it is often unpredictable.  A lot of work does not need to be tied to a time or place, as it traditionally had been. No one cares if I wrote this column at 2:00 PM or 2:00 AM, as long as it is done on time and communicates my message.

There is still work to be done.  Some managers are insisting that staff work specific hours, even when that is not needed for the job (my friend is facing this) making it harder as a caregiver.  Some jobs can be changed, and some caregivers may need to change jobs.  Any employer who is struggling to hire talent, should consider creating flexible work arrangements to accommodate and empower caregivers.

This is not an issue we are currently funded to work on, but it is an issue we are passionate about. 

Identifying Fraud and Financial Exploitation  

I attended a briefing recently by financial services professionals on the use of machine learning or artificial intelligence to screen for fraud, theft, and financial exploitation in financial transactions.

Large financial services providers handle millions of electronic transactions each day – a tiny fraction of those carry hallmarks of fraud, theft, or exploitation. Financial services providers are developing screening software using machine learning or artificial intelligence to screen those millions of transactions for the markers of abuse.

One very large financial services provider started screening all transactions in 2021. In the first year the software identified 150 transactions, that when investigated were confirmed to be fraud, theft, or exploitation.  Information from those files is used to sharpen the algorithm. The analysist also examined cases that are missed by the algorithm and are confirmed as fraud, theft, or exploitation to adjust the criteria being looking for. The changes in the screening criteria, based on what is learned is the essence of machine learning. The changes from 2021 have made the system more effective in 2022.  Five months into 2022 the same system had already identified 228 files that have been confirmed to be fraud, theft, or exploitation. Because the system is constantly being changed based on what they learn from the cases that are confirmed, the system will continue to get better.   

Will this be the end of fraud and theft?  No, but it is another tool.  What financial services organizations? I won’t say, as we don’t want the criminals to know who to avoid. (The speakers asked us not to say who they work for.) 

We have some funding to work on abuse and exploitation, but there is so much more we are passionate about doing.    

Funding from the ABA, through member dues is a little less than 10% of our budget. Every ABA member helps make that possible. ABA membership for most of our readers is $150 a year.  Check it out.

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David Godfrey, JD.

Director ABA Commission on Law and Aging

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