Category: In the News
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,
I’ve always loved a fresh apple – so this article in the National Post about the birthplace of the McIntosh apple immediately caught my eye.
It seems that the original farm in Dundela, Ontario, where the McIntosh was discovered in 1811, has fallen into disrepair (Dundela is north of the St. Lawrence River between Kingston and Cornwall).
It also seems that the popularity of the McIntosh apple is in decline. If you regularly visit the apple section of your local grocery store, this will come as no surprise. Tastes are changing, and people are looking for less “tang” and more “crunchy and sweet”. One grower predicts that McIntosh apples will, for the most part, disappear from the marketplace in his lifetime.
While there’s a great story behind the rise of the McIntosh apple, Heritage Canada doesn’t have the funds to buy the farm and preserve the story. There’s a good chance that younger generations will know nothing about this apple and never taste one, even though the McIntosh apple became a 20th century North American success (and even had a line of computers named after it).
Should we care?
I grew up eating McIntosh apples. I bought them from Boy Scouts on their apple day and received them as a Halloween treat (reluctantly). They’re truly part of my history. But so are Eaton’s, Sam the Record Man, and those Lola triangle ice treats (created in the late 1950s but gone by the 1980s). Time and tastes move on. Maybe we should worry less about shrines to the past and simply enjoy what we have while we have it and look forward to the next great thing when the time is up.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy some uniquely Canadian traditions, like Hockey Night in Canada, Caesar cocktails, butter tarts, Victoria Day fireworks, and Crispy Crunch chocolate bars (in no particular order).
Thanks for reading!
November 11, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day. A century earlier, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, hostilities in the First World War came to an end. Commonly observed in Canada and across the Commonwealth as Remembrance Day, memorial services are held to honour and commemorate those who served and those who died in service of their country.
Some symbols and acts of remembrance used to mark this solemn day, and their significance, are universal across all of the Commonwealth. The poppy, for example, is a familiar emblem of remembrance in Canada and abroad. Those of us who recall the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian physician John McCrae may also credit it with the adoption of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance.
Fewer of us are likely aware that the custom of wearing a poppy should instead be credited to Moina Michael, a professor at the University of Georgia. After the end of the First World War, Michael took inspiration from the well-known opening verse of McCrae’s poem and conceived the idea of selling silk poppies to raise funds to assist disabled veterans. The practice was subsequently adopted by veterans’ groups in other nations including in Canada. The Royal Canadian Legion’s Poppy Fund continues to provide financial assistance and support for Canadian veterans.
Canada also retains certain traditions that are unique to its celebration of remembrance. The selection of a Silver Cross Mother is one such tradition. This tradition is named for the Silver Cross, a medal historically awarded to the mother or next-of-kin of any member of the Canadian Forces who lost their life in the line of duty. Each year dating back to 1936, the Royal Canadian Legion has chosen one such mother as the National Silver Cross Mother. As part of the Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, the Silver Cross Mother lays a wreath on behalf of all mothers who have lost a child or loved one in service of their country.
The selection of this year’s recipient, Anita Cenerini, is a watershed moment in dispelling the stigma surrounding mental illness and post-traumatic stress in veterans. It is the first time in the history of the custom that the honour has been bestowed on a mother whose child’s life was taken not in active duty, but personally, after a battle with the effects of post-traumatic stress. The Royal Canadian Legion is optimistic that this year’s ceremony will encourage veterans battling the effects of PTSD and mental illness, as well as their loved ones, to reach out for assistance and counselling.
Thanks for reading. Lest we forget.
This is an actual headline from an October 23, 2018 post on “Tennessean”, which is part of the USA Today Network.
Apparently, the doctor borrowed $300,000 some time ago from a long-time patient who was also a friend and the administrator at the doctor’s clinic. When the patient later requested repayment, the doctor diagnosed her with dementia in an apparent attempt to escape the debt. The doctor forwarded the diagnosis to the patient’s daughter, who in turn forwarded the letter to the patient’s financial company. The patient was then denied access to her assets.
The doctor later admitted that the diagnosis of dementia was based solely “on observation”, and that she did not use any testing methods or obtain a second opinion.
A later assessment by a psychologist stated that the patient had no indication of dementia.
As a result of disciplinary action that was brought against her, the doctor voluntarily retired her licence.
In an interview with the Tennessean, the doctor said that she was “set up” by a vindictive patient, and that she retired after state attorneys “presented her with an unwinnable legal case.” The doctor said that she borrowed the money 20 years ago and that she had been making repayments.
The doctor said that the patient did in fact “exhibit erratic behavior and signs of memory loss”. She said that the patient “later misled the psychologist so the dementia diagnosis would not be confirmed.”
What is not clear from the report is how the doctor could have expected to avoid the debt by having the patient declared incapable. Surely the patient’s daughter or someone else on her behalf could have taken steps to enforce the debt. That is, however, assuming that they knew about it.
A takeaway is to ensure that your legal and financial affairs are in order and are well documented, so that someone can step in and protect your assets and enforce your rights in the event that you are found to be incapable, legitimately or not.
Another takeaway may be to be careful when getting medical assistance in Tennessee. The headline to another story posted October 11, 2018 reads: “This pain clinic nurse gave a patient 51 pills a day. And she kept her licence.” (For the record, the pills consisted of 32 tablets of methadone, 8 Roxicodone, 4 Soma, and 6 Xanax throughout the day, topped off with 1 Ambien.)
Have a great weekend.
Trends seem obvious in hindsight – but anticipating them before others has made many people very wealthy. They’re the ones who bought Apple shares for $1 in 2003 and watched the price exceed $200 in 2018. Or the ones who bought Blockbuster Video stock in the 1980s and sold it at its peak in 2002 before its 10-year decline into Netflix-induced irrelevance.
We’ve seen this firsthand, having been involved in the estates of many who “got in early”, moved ahead of the curve and capitalized.
While societal norms and consumer habits are always changing, not every change is one you can cash in on. For example, manual razor sales from stores fell by 5.1% year-over-year – their third straight year of decline. A key reason behind the decline is a simple one: people are shaving less.
Razor manufacturer Gillette says that men shaved an average of 3.2 times per week, compared to 3.7 times per week a decade ago. Stubble is now an acceptable look and more men are growing out their beards. CNN wrote about it recently.
While this is certainly a trend, razors continue to be sold and shaving product companies are adapting (with strategies such as lower prices and a move into beard grooming products). It’s likely not a game-changer.
Breakfast cereals are the same. Sales are down 11% over the past five years as people look for more natural, healthy alternatives – or the takeout convenience of breakfast sandwiches. But take one look down the grocery aisle and you’ll see that cereals are a long way from becoming the Blockbuster Video of food.
So, what change will be monumental?
Where should we be looking to find the next “big thing”, like Amazon and Uber? Like you, I don’t have a crystal ball, but here are my two picks for big changes that could disrupt our world and create opportunities.
- Automobiles: More than 30,000 people continue to die each year in U.S. auto accidents (Canada is typically about 10% of these numbers, so about the same rate). People will look back at the 20th and 21st centuries as barbaric for the number of lives lost crashing metal into metal. We know that driverless cars (and virtually risk-free driving) are coming, but what else will change (auto insurance, in-car entertainment options, ownership models, a declining need for personal injury lawyers)? There could be many related growth trends.
- Farming and meat: Vegetarianism and veganism are growing – along with our ability to manufacture artificial meat. That combination may be enough to turn the traditional food industry on its head. The trick is to identify the companies that could potentially dominate if the trend to less real meat continues.
There are many other possibilities of course. Have you spotted any? Are you moving ahead of the curve?
Thanks for reading!
In case you haven’t read or heard enough about the legalization of cannabis in Canada this week, here’s more.
The legalization of cannabis in Canada may have a significant impact on estate planning. Specific issues include:
- Impact on Testamentary Capacity
Today’s marijuana is not the same as marijuana from “back in the day”. The average potency of marijuana has risen from 3.9% THC in 1983 to 15.1% in 2009. On the OCS website, the only legal retailer of recreational marijuana in Ontario, cannabis is available with a labelled THC content of 17 to 28%.
The long term effect of cannabis on cognitive functions has been documented. The immediate and long term effects of cannabis use may have an impact on testamentary capacity, much like other intoxicants or mind-altering substances.
- Impact on Bequests Conditional on Non-Use of Illegal Drugs
The use of incentive trusts is not common, but they do exist. See our blog, here, and our podcast on the topic, here. These trusts can be used to limit or restrict distributions to a beneficiary based on prohibited behavior.
An issue arises if the trust is designed to disincentive use of “illegal drugs”. The effect of the legality of marijuana may undermine the testator’s intentions.
- Insurance Issues
Numerous issues arise in the context of health and life insurance. Issues include:
- Disclosure of cannabis use and the effect on insurability and rates
- The implications of being a medical user, as opposed to a recreational user
- Whether the purchase of medical marijuana is covered by health insurance. (See our blog on this topic, here.)
- Whether a loss arising from the use of marijuana would be covered.
- Administration Issues Related to Cannabis
Issues related to administration include:
- What does the estate trustee do with cannabis possessed by the deceased?
- How is the cannabis to be valued for Estate Administration Tax purposes? (However, in light of the possession limits, this might be de minimus.)
These matters may be of greater concern in the US, where some states have legalized marijuana, while it remains illegal under federal legislation.
For a more detailed discussion of these issues from an American point of view, see “Joint wills and pot trusts: Marijuana and the Estate Planner” by Gerry Beyer and Brooke Dacus.
Have a great weekend.