Category: In the News
It’s a new year, and we all want to live well and healthy. While our bad habits can get in the way, we generally try to do the right thing.
But what’s right? In 2019, the notion of what’s “right” for our health is getting fuzzy. The reason? We live in an “always on” marketing world, and what can actually help us live well can take a back seat to the shiny new wellness tools that are being thrust upon us.
Think about it. Has there been a major “wellness” finding, backed by science, that’s emerged over the past 20 years? I’m not sure there has been.
Scottish writer, broadcast and family doctor Margaret McCartney lays out the truth we don’t want to hear in this Globe and Mail article. We don’t want to hear it because the advice is boring, obvious and “old news”.
“The truth is that well-being is simple, if not straightforward. Don’t smoke, don’t drink excessively, do exercise you enjoy, eat a Mediterranean-style diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, interact with people, work at a job and hobbies you like, and don’t be poor.”
These are the evidence-based factors that contribute to health. And while poverty is not a choice for most people, the other factors are. Margaret McCartney’s fear is that we’re becoming so focussed on the shiny new wellness trends (cleanses, colonic irrigation, crystal-infused water, 10,000 steps, this diet, that diet) that we’re missing the bigger picture and the very basic things that can help us stay healthy.
The beginning of a new year is when wellness “hype” is at its peak. My advice? Don’t buy it. By all means, enjoy your Fitbit, your new exercise program, your life without sugar or carbs, or whatever it might be. But don’t ignore the science. None of us are perfect in our health behaviours, but let’s at least strive for what can make a proven, meaningful difference.
Thanks for reading,
My colleague, Garrett Horrocks, recently blogged on a promising breakthrough in research relating to the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. The research focused on the use of artificial intelligence to assist in the early detection of the disease.
Last week, I came across an interesting article that discusses a promising breakthrough in the United States in treatment for patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative diseases. The fact that treatment options continue to be explored by the science, engineering and medical community is hopeful, in light of last year’s announcement by the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, that it is pulling out of research into Alzheimer’s disease.
The treatment consists of implanting a “pacemaker” into the part of the brain responsible for executive and cognitive functions, such as planning, problem solving and judgment. The article explains that a battery pack is then placed in the chest, which sends electrical currents through the wires in a process called “deep brain stimulation” or DBS.
Studies on the use of the implant have shown that the subject patients’ cognitive and daily functional abilities as a whole declined much more slowly than Alzheimer’s patients in a matched comparison group who were not being treated with DBS.
The article highlights one study participant, Ms. Moore, who, prior to receiving the implant, was unable to cook meals or dress herself without assistance. According to the article, Ms. Moore was very fearful that her disease would take away her ability to play hymns on the piano, however, after two years of receiving DBS, she is still able to continue playing the piano and can now cook meals, select outfits and plan outings independently.
My colleague, Garrett, has pointed out in his recent blog that there could be many ways in which the use of artificial intelligence in the early detection of Alzheimer’s could impact succession and estate planning, such as a predictive diagnosis prompting a testator to take steps to implement an estate plan prior to the loss of capacity.
There is no global definition of capacity, and there are varying degrees of capacity that attract different legal tests. Capacity is decision, time and situation specific, such that a person may have capacity to do certain things, but not others, at different times and under different circumstances.
While the full impact of the use of the implant and DBS in treating Alzheimer’s is not yet clear, should the treatment continue with its successes, it may be possible that people living with Alzheimer’s who do not have testamentary capacity today, may have testamentary capacity sometime in the future.
Thanks for reading!
It never stops. Another year on the calendar turns, and we receive another jolting reminder of the years passing. It’s not just loved ones that we lose over time – our way of life is also constantly under threat.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While we may miss some aspects of life in a nostalgic way (milk being delivered to your milk box twice a week), there are other aspects that we’re happy to leave behind.
So, what will we soon lose? Here are five things that could well (depending on your age) disappear in your lifetime.
Sweden may be the canary in the coal mine on this one. Half of the country’s retailers believe that Sweden will stop accepting cash by 2025. This has sparked calls for an e-currency and for actions needed to deal with this change (like what to do when electronic systems fail, or the power goes out). Read about it here.
It’s happening in Canada too of course. The thought of paying for a cup of coffee with a credit or debit card 10 years ago was laughable. Now it’s the norm. Bye-bye bank notes.
This is a change we all want – a cure for, or an end to, cancer. And there’s a new hope – the planting of immune cells from strangers into cancer patients to create the ultimate cancer-fighting treatment. Fingers crossed everyone. https://nationalpost.com/health/health-and-wellness/cancer-may-no-longer-be-deadly-in-future-say-british-researchers-announcing-breakthrough
- Car accidents
Okay, self-driving cars won’t eliminate traffic accidents completely – no technology is perfect or immune from outside attack. But just as traffic deaths in Canada have been cut in half since the 1970s due to safety measures such as seat belts and car seats, the move to the “auto-auto” will dramatically improve road safety. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/09/self-driving-cars-could-save-300000-lives-per-decade-in-america/407956/
- Print newspapers
Yes, this is an obvious one – print newspaper subscribers are a dying breed. But what may also be reduced is the relevance and reach of news organizations in general, even those that have moved online. While many news organizations will survive post-print, this fascinating article explains how their influence could dramatically decline, even with a robust online presence. http://www.niemanlab.org/2018/09/what-will-happen-when-newspapers-kill-print-and-go-online-only-most-of-that-print-audience-will-just-disappear/
- Farm-raised meat
2018 saw the world’s first steak grown in a lab. There’s still work to be done on taste, texture and economic models, but real meat grown from cells is a new reality. There’s a good chance that “farm animals raised for slaughter” will seem as horrific to our grandchildren as medieval torture and gladiator death battles seem to us today. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/14/worlds-first-lab-grown-beef-steak-revealed-but-the-taste-needs-work
Thanks for reading!
Let me give you the bad news first: some people are naturally more resilient than others – and life can be tough if your resilience falls in the low end of the range.
Now the good news: your level of resilience isn’t static. You can grow it – with the right brain fertilizer – to become mentally stronger in the face of adversity. This recent New York Times article discusses some of the ways it can be done.
The article is just one of many to explore the link between greater (and lasting) resilience and activities such as mindfulness, social stimulation, and physical activity. It also sets out a great definition of resilience, courtesy of Huda Akil, a neuroscientist at the University of Michigan:
“Active resilience happens when people who are vulnerable find resources to cope with stress and bounce back, and do so in a way that leaves them stronger, ready to handle additional stress, in more adaptive ways.”
In our line of work, the “vulnerable” part mentioned in the above definition is often death, and the estate dispute that follows. From our observations, while death is one of life’s certainties, dealing with it is anything but. In estate disputes, some people are able to cope with the family death and the dispute over assets. Others crumble under the weight of grief and anger. What we’ve seen in many cases is that a higher level of resilience can make a positive difference to outcomes.
How to increase resilience
So, what’s the magic “brain fertilizer” that can increase our resilience? As it turns out, it’s not really magic at all. Better health equals greater resilience, so exercising and good nutrition go a long way to improving resilience. A strong social network also plays a key role. After that, much of it involves shifting our way of thinking – which is where a trained therapist can make a huge difference.
Take a look at the American Psychological Association’s 10 ways to build resilience and consider the opportunities you may have to bounce back stronger the next time adversity comes your way.
Thanks for reading!
Cryptocurrency is aptly described in a recent post as “digital cash stored on an electronic file and traded online… like online banking but with no central bank or regulator. It also has virtual wallets which store the cryptocurrency.”
As with any online assets, access to a deceased person’s cryptocurrency is vital. Without it, heirs will not receive their intended entitlements and the cryptocurrency will remain dormant. A stark example of such a problem can be found in the QuadrigaCX debacle.
QuadrigaCX is Canada’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange. Its’ founder, Gerald Cotton, died unexpectedly and prematurely at age 30. He was the only one who knew the password to access the holdings of the company’s clients. Once news of his death got out, thousands of clients were rushing to withdraw millions in funds. They have not yet been successful, the reason being, as one author explains, is that “…Cotten was the sole person responsible for transferring QuadrigaCX funds between the company’s “cold wallet” — secure, offline storage — and its “hot wallet” or online server…Very little cryptocurrency was stored in the hot wallet for security purposes. Cotten’s laptop was encrypted, and his widow, Jennifer Robertson, and the expert she hired have been unable to access any of its contents.”
QuadrigaCX is evidently now in financial straits. It has filed for creditor protection in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. Further, Ms. Robertson has reportedly sought the appointment of Ernst & Young to oversee the company’s dealings while attempts to recover the lost holdings continue.
This unfortunate situation highlights the risk that may accompany cryptocurrency’s lack of regulation. It also serves as a reminder to us that with ownership of digital assets growing, we need to think about how to ensure that gifting such assets is effected, including making sure to inform our intended estate trustees of how to access the assets. Doing so is helpful because, as the above case demonstrates, it is a must in the case of cryptocurrencies to have the password relevant to the wallet where the currency is held. Further, with an asset as volatile as cryptocurrency can be, a fully informed estate trustee will be in a better position to avoid delays in the administration of an estate and/or allegations of mismanagement if he/she is able to quickly access and distribute such assets.
Thanks for reading and have a great day,
A recent study published by the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at the University of California at San Francisco represents a promising breakthrough in research relating to early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. At the core of the study, however, is a familiar yet unlikely trend: artificial intelligence.
The research team developed an algorithm to read and interpret PET scan images with a particular emphasis on monitoring and detecting changes in glucose uptake over extended periods of time. Glucose monitoring has historically been an important predictive factor in formulating a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Healthy cells generally display high levels of glucose uptake, indicative of robust cell activity. Conversely, lower glucose uptake suggests cell inactivity or death, for example, as a result of Alzheimer’s.
The slow, progressive nature of Alzheimer’s has historically rendered it difficult for radiologists to observe the subtle changes in glucose levels until symptoms had reached a stage at which they were no longer meaningfully reversible. The team at UCSF tailored the algorithm to detect subtle features that were imperceptible to the human eye.
To achieve this, the algorithm was fed thousands of PET scan images from thousands of patients at all stages of cognitive impairment, from no impairment through to late-stage Alzheimer’s. Over time, the algorithm learned to discern between the particular features of a given scan which were of assistance in predicting the eventual onset of Alzheimer’s and those which were not. At the conclusion of the study, the algorithm had correctly predicted the onset of Alzheimer’s in more than 92% of cases. Importantly, the algorithm was able to predict the onset of Alzheimer’s, on average, more than six years before the symptoms constituting a typical diagnosis had manifested.
Leaving aside the obvious benefits relating to treatment and reversibility, early detection of Alzheimer’s could stand to have numerous applications in the context of succession and estate planning. For example, a predictive diagnosis could spur a testator to take steps to implement a proper estate plan well before his or her capacity to do so could become a concern. In turn, the testator would have the security that their plan of succession would be carried out according to his or her instructions, reducing the risk of contentious post-death litigation.
Thanks for reading.
Please feel free to check out the following blogs on related topics:
I don’t know about you, but I was a little disappointed when I discovered that one of the greatest thinkers of our time – Stephen Hawking – dismissed the notion of a life after death.
Hawking died in March 2018, which is when his previously noted thoughts on an afterlife began to resurface. He had lived with the possibility of an early death for nearly 50 years, so would be (in my opinion) highly motivated to believe in an afterlife. And yet, his conclusion was a simple one: no way.
I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail … There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.
You can read more here.
Then there was hope
Of course, there are other smart science people in the world. And a little searching revealed that there were indeed others who believed there was a life after death.
Here’s a recent example. Researchers at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom examined more than 2,000 people who suffered cardiac arrests at hospitals in the United Kingdom, the United States and Austria. The results? Nearly 40% of people who survived their resuscitation described some kind of awareness during the time when they were clinically dead. It’s the largest ever medical study into near-death and out-of-body experiences. It concluded that some awareness may continue even after the brain has shut down.
And just this year, some well-respected scientists affirmed their theory that quantum mechanics allows consciousness to live on following the body’s eventual demise. The theory is complicated, but the bottom line is that the physical universe we live in is only our “perception.” Once our bodies die, our soul continues in an infinite beyond. It’s worth a quick read.
I can’t say that I understand quantum mechanics, but I’m “all in” on their theory of an infinite soul. Bring it on.
Thanks for reading … Have a great day,
Humans are social beings. Some of us enjoy interacting with others, with animals, with virtual reality experiences, or all of the above!
I read a heartwarming story recently from the New York Times which featured a robot caregiver for the elderly named Zora. Zora was introduced to a nursing facility outside of Paris and she was rather well received.
The residents of this particular facility have dementia and other conditions that require twenty-four hour care. Zora can converse with the residents through the assistance of a nurse who types on a laptop for the robot to speak. Many residents formed an attachment to Zora and even treated the robot like a baby.
According to the makers of the Zora robot, it is the first robot in the world that takes care of people.
While a robot may not be able to replace the tender, love, and care of one’s family, it is easy to believe that a robot can make any one’s imagination wander, stimulate play, and even be a friend.
I say that as someone with very fond memories of Toy Story. The first Toy Story came out in 1995 and Toy Story 4 is about to be released in 2019 if you want to check out the trailer here.
Thanks for reading!
The Holiday season is full of merriment and celebration. But it may be difficult for those who have lost a loved one to partake in the festivities, as the sense of loss and loneliness is often deepened at this time of year.
A recent article tells us about holiday remembrance services that can offer relief to those coping without a person who meant a great deal to them. The author speaks of the death of his mother and of his attendance at a holiday remembrance service he learned of through his local Funeral Centre, which gave him great comfort. He touchingly notes:
“Sharing tales about my mother eased my sense of loss and helped me cope with the first Christmas without her. I felt no guilt about depressing others at Christmas. Instead I was instilled with the powerful sense of relief that comes from knowing others feel the same way. Being able to share my grief freely and without feeling like a burden is an emotional and powerful way to ease the pain and to comfort others too.”
I expect, as the author points out, that the most difficult time after our nearest and dearest pass away is not in the blur of the days immediately following the death and funeral, but when the hustle and bustle of that emotional time is over and everyone returns to living their lives. So it is nice to learn that holiday remembrance services that can help us honour loved ones and lift spirits are run by many funeral homes across the Greater Toronto Area.
Thanks for reading,
We see many bequests to the arts in our estate planning and litigation practice, but this might be the biggest – and most unusual – philanthropic “ask” of all time.
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa – a 42-year-old retail entrepreneur, art collector, and former punk-rocker – announced that he had purchased the first tourist ticket on Elon Musk’s inaugural SpaceX flight to the moon and back, scheduled for 2023.
Then came the surprising part. He didn’t just purchase one ticket for the flight: he purchased all the tickets. At a cost of millions, he plans to ask a handful of artists from different disciplines – film, photography, painting and more – to join him on the inaugural flight.
In exchange for a donated flight ticket, the artists would create works inspired by their experience. You can read more about Maezawa here. And this short video sets out his goals for the project, one that he calls #dearMoon. It’s a revolutionary idea for the revolutionary concept of tourist space travel.
Oh, but the risks …
Revolutionary or not, what do you say to someone who offers you an artistic experience worth millions, but also one that could kill you? Even Musk acknowledges that space travel carries significant risk, and NASA has expressed serious concerns about the launch process in particular. That said, NASA plans to use SpaceX rockets in 2019 to send astronauts to the International Space Station.
And the artists for the 2023 flight? Maezawa hasn’t asked anyone yet, but he is encouraging those he does ask to say “yes.” Which begs the question: what would you do if you were asked? If I were in the later part of my artistic career, with family all grown and an artistic legacy established, I might jump at the chance. I’d have lived a full life, and there are worse ways to go if something does go wrong.
But for many, the potential sacrifice of life for art will be, I think, too much to ask. I have no doubt that Maezawa will be travelling with a full flight of artists. I’ll be curious to see which ones agree to go.
Thanks for reading … Have a great day,