As lawyers emerge from a year of pandemic-induced isolation, concerns have grown around the mental competency of the growing number of attorneys over 65 in an industry where colleagues are ill-equipped to distinguish between signs of of normal aging and something more in lawyers who can be relatively high functioning in early stages of dementia and often in denial about the need to step down, reports Bloomberg Law. Over the last ten years, the number of lawyers practicing over the age of 65 has increased more than 50 percent. In 2020, roughly 14 percent of American lawyers were over 65, compared to 7 percent of workers generally. Meanwhile, more than one in nine people over 65 are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia.
Recent, comprehensive data on how often disciplinary bodies and lawyer assistance programs confront the issue is non-existent, and there’s no way of knowing how often colleagues intervene without assistance from a professional organization. Diana Uchiyama, executive director of the Illinois Lawyers’ Assistance Program, says she’s seen a significant increase in outreach related to cognitive decline in the last year. And because people are often wary to intervene in cases of dementia that could end a colleague’s career, an attorney suffering from the issue can do irreversible damage to cases and trials.