One of my colleagues recommended I read Michael Kinsley’s “personal history” piece in the New Yorker magazine entitled “Have you lost your mind?” and subtitled “More bad news for boomers.” (subscription required). As you might expect from a writer* of Kinsley’s talent, the piece is both brilliant and moving.
I urge every lawyer and judge to get a copy of Kinsley’s article and read it carefully. The article recounts Kinsley’s struggle with Parkinson’s disease and his partial cognitive decline. A wonderful review of the article is presented in the Elder Law Prof Blog.
Condensed and greatly so, here is a summary of what I learned from Kinsley’s penetrating piece:
- Aging and disease impact mental function. That is not new.
- Given our enormous demographic bulge of baby boomers, this country (including especially lawyers and judges) will soon be forced to deal with a tidal wave of fellow citizens whose mental function is impaired. That is not new.
- When we talk about impairment of mental function, we fail to understand that “mental function” is not only a decline of recent or remote memory or Alzheimer’s or I.Q. Rather “mental function” is like a bowl of marbles. Each marble represents a particular function. One can lose some marbles, but not others. That has real world significance. A person whose “impulse marble” has gone, may be perfectly able to write stunning and insightful prose. That is new.
- Because there will be so many of us who have lost some, but not all, of our marbles as we decline, all of us should treat regular cognitive testing just like we treat annual physical exams. That is new.
*Kinsley is political journalist, commentator, television host, and pundit. He is a Harvard trained lawyer and former Rhodes Scholar.