Category: Health / Medical

18 Jan

When the Bottle Hits Back: Korsakoff’s Syndrome

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Korsakoff’s syndrome is a brain disorder usually associated with chronic, excessive alcohol consumption. At the physiological level, Korsakoff’s is caused by a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency, which ultimately affects the brain and the central nervous system. In the context of alcoholism, this thiamine deficiency comes about as a result of poor diet as well as an impeded ability of the stomach lining to absorb vitamins.

Korsakoff’s predominantly affects men between the ages of 45 and 65. Women tend to develop the disease at an earlier age than men. According to the Alzheimer’s Society UK, it takes about 20 years for the disease to develop in men, whereas it takes about half that time to develop in women.

At first glance, one with Korsakoff’s syndrome may appear fairly normal. An in-depth assessment, however, would reveal symptoms including:

· Memory loss, particularly of events post-onset of the disease;
· Impaired ability to acquire new information;
· Lack of insight into the condition;
· Perseveration (repetitive comments or questions);
· Eye movement disorders; and
· Confabulation, or ‘falsification of memory’ in which the sufferer makes up events to cover up their inability to remember events.

Once Korsakoff’s develops, recovery is unlikely, however the progression of the disease can be halted with abstinence from alcohol. Treatment for Korsakoff’s is comprised of thiamine therapy, as well as the administration of medications usually given to people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Jennifer Hartman, Guest Blogger

11 Jan

Through the Looking Glass: Lewy Body Dementia

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After Alzheimer’s Disease, Lewy body Dementia (LBD) is one of the leading causes of dementia in the elderly, accounting for up to 20% of cases of dementia.

In Lewy body Dementia, abnormal protein structures called Lewy bodies develop in regions of the brain responsible for thinking and movement. These Lewy bodies were first described in 1912 by Friederich Lewy, a colleague of Alois Alzheimer.

LBD symptoms closely resemble those of both Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. The Alzheimer’s-like symptoms of LBD include fluctuating levels of attention and alertness, and a progressive loss of memory, language, reasoning and higher mental functions such as calculation. The Parkinson’s-like symptoms of LBD include rigidity, stiffness, stooped posture and a shuffling gait. Complex, well-formed, but oddly unthreatening visual hallucinations are one of the earliest and most common (>80% incidence) symptoms of LBD and usually consist of people, children or animals.

Here are some more quick facts about LBD:

· LBD is slightly more common in men than women. The average age of onset is 75 to 80 years of age.
· There is no single test to diagnose LBD. Like Alzheimer’s disease, a diagnosis of LBD is considered ‘possible’ or ‘probable’ after other possible diagnoses are considered and eliminated.
· Lewy body Dementia usually has a rapid onset and rapid progression. The average span of time between diagnosis and death is about 5 to 7 years.
· There are no know therapies to slow the progression of LBD, nor is there a known cure. The goal of treatment is to control the cognitive, psychiatric and motor symptoms of the patient.

For additional information, click here for the Alzheimer Society of Canada or here for the Alzheimer Society of Toronto. The Lewy Body Dementia Association is also an excellent resource.

Jennifer Hartman, Guest Blogger

07 Jan

Living Wills and Powers of Attorney for Personal Care

Hull & Hull LLP Capacity, Estate & Trust, Health / Medical, Power of Attorney, Wills Tags: , , , , , , 0 Comments

A “Living Will” or “Advance Directive” is a document that indicates the grantor’s preferences with respect to health conditions and treatment, including the level of medical intervention. It is a guide for the person who must communicate with physicians and make health care decisions in the event the patient is not able to do so him or herself. It is different from a Power of Attorney for Personal Care, which is a document naming a specific person to act on your behalf.

An Advance Directive can be very detailed and tailored to the individual’s personal circumstances. For example, on the University of Toronto Centre for Bioethics website you can find information on a Cancer Specific Advance Directive

Given the complex medical nature, it may well be that the specifics of such a directive lay more comfortably in the bailiwick of the health care professional rather than the legal professional.  Ideally, the Power of Attorney for Personal Care should include a detailed health care directive. This approach offers the assurance that the grantor’s wishes are taken into account without the wording in the Advance Directive inadvertently voiding his or her Power of Attorney for Personal Care.

A Power of Attorney for Personal Care may also include conditions or restrictions other than Advance Directives such as limiting the attorney’s ability to act until a confirmation of incapacity has been obtained, and determining the method of assessing capacity.

If a person becomes incapable of making personal care decisions and has no Guardian of the Person or Power of Attorney conferring the authority to make health care decisions, the Health Care Consent Act of Ontario provides a statutory hierarchy of persons who can provide consent on the incapable person’s behalf in descending order of authority as follows:

  1. Spouse or partner
  2. Child or parent
  3. Brother or sister
  4. Any other relative

Therefore, it is especially important to prepare a Power of Attorney for Personal Care if you would not want your spouse, child or parent to make health care decisions on your behalf should you become unable to make them yourself.

For further information on this topic, see Q & A on Powers of Attorney and Living Wills by the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee for Ontario, or this book about Living Wills by M. Dianne Godkin.

Thanks for reading.

Sharon Davis

Sharon Davis – Click here for more information on Sharon Davis.

04 Jan


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Pseudodementia is a dementia syndrome which resembles dementia, but is actually the result of an underlying psychiatric disorder, most often depression. While the presentation of pseudodementia in the elderly varies widely, it closely mimics dementia in that common symptoms include:

· poor attention and concentration;
· a reduction in speed of cognitive response;
· compromised problem-solving and decision-making; and
· impaired immediate recall.

The two identifying hallmarks of pseudodementia are: i) there is no known neurological condition to otherwise explain the symptoms and ii) the cognitive deficits show considerable improvement, or even reverse, when the psychiatric illness is treated.

The concept of pseudodementia is a controversial one, in that it is considered a ‘soft diagnosis’, as there are no explicit diagnostic criteria; a physician’s checklist, if you will. There is no validated test, or group of tests to differentiate depression-related cognitive dysfunction from degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Compounding the confusion surrounding pseudodementia is the fact that depression is frequent in patients with irreversible dementia. As a result, pseudodementia is often misdiagnosed as simply ‘true’ dementia.

In the context of estates litigation, a diagnosis of pseudodementia has the potential to significantly change the landscape of a capacity challenge. As an example, an article in the Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law describes a nearly successful attempt to defraud a patient of their estate during her ‘presumed’ dementia, when in fact, she suffered from pseudodementia from which she later made a dramatic recovery.

Jennifer Hartman, Guest Blogger

28 Dec

Upcoming ‘Medical/Health Series’ of Blogs

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For those of you with one eye on the next page of the calendar, Hull & Hull LLP will be posting our third series of medical/health blogs starting on Monday January 4th, 2010. The series will run every Monday thereafter in the month of January, for a total of four blogs. The following subjects will be featured:

  • Pseudodementia
  • Lewy Body Dementia
  • Korsakoff’s Syndrome
  • Huntington’s Disease

We hope this series proves both useful and informative. Please feel free to contact us at with your feedback.


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