Hello, May!

ChicagoSpringHappy May, CDEL followers! It’s finally getting nice here in Chicago, though a little rainy! We’re just happy for it to finally be warm! It’s a new month, which of course means that it’s time for another rundown of all of the different awareness campaigns that are kicking off this month! We’re also only a few days away from Mother’s Day, so be sure that you’re getting ready for that!

Older Americans MonthOAM-logo-360

According to the Administration for Community living,

“When Older Americans Month was established in 1963, only 17 million living Americans had reached their 65th birthday. About a third of older Americans lived in poverty and there were few programs to meet their needs. Interest in older Americans and their concerns was growing. A meeting in April 1963 between President John F. Kennedy and members of the National Council of Senior Citizens led to designating May as “Senior Citizens Month,” the prelude to “Older Americans Month.”

Historically, Older Americans Month has been a time to acknowledge the contributions of past and current older persons to our country, in particular those who defended our country. Every President since Kennedy has issued a formal proclamation during or before the month of May asking that the entire nation pay tribute in some way to older persons in their communities. Older Americans Month is celebrated across the country through ceremonies, events, fairs, and other such activities.”

The theme of the 2015 Older Americans Month is Get into the Act.

Learn more at: http://www.acl.gov/newsroom/observances/oam/index.aspx

Arthritis Awareness Monthc_purpleblue

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a term that refers to join disease or pain, and includes a variety of syndromes. These include: degenerative arthritis, which includes osteoarthritis (OA), and is caused by the wearing away of cartilage in the joints over time; inflammatory arthritis, where the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, and includes both rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and psoriatic arthritis; infectious arthritis, where a bacterium, virus, or fungus causes inflammation and infection in the joints; and metabolic arthritis, when uric acid builds up in the joints and creates needle-like crystals that cause intense pain with movement. Almost 53 million adults in the United States have some form of arthritis, making it an incredibly common, though not well understood, condition.

How is arthritis treated?

The treatment of arthritis is very individuals and depends on its type, its cause, and the person. With degenerative arthritis, the best approach is actually prevention, which includes keeping a healthy weight, staying active, and avoiding risk behaviors, such as injury and repetitive movements. Assistive devices, hot and cold compresses, rest, and over-the-counter pain and inflammation relievers are also used. To treat inflammatory arthritis, environmental risk factors, such as smoking, should be avoided, and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARD’s) are also used. Antibiotics are used to treat the root causes of infectious arthritis, though arthritis symptoms may continue on beyond the resolution of the infection. For metabolic arthritis, surgery may be necessary.

Famous people with arthritis

  • Lucille Ball, actress – RA0312s99-tiger-woods-50plucille_ball
  • Pierre-Auguste Renoir, artist – RA
  • Tiger Woods, athlete – OA
  • Hank Aaron, athlete — OA

Where can I learn more?

Resources in Chicago

Nation Stroke Awareness Month3e758874406342353a0b0607aedfb1cd

What is a stroke?

A stroke is a medical emergency where the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off or severely reduced, stopping the flow of oxygen and nutrients and resulting in the death of brain cells. Strokes can be caused by several different events, including the blocking of an artery (known as a ischemic stroke), the bursting or leaking of a blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke), or a short, temporary disruption in blood flow (known as a transient ischemic attack, or TIA). Ischemic strokes are by far the most common, though TIA are being recognized for what they are far more often than they once were.

Signs and symptoms of a stroke

  • Trouble speaking and understanding
  • Paralysis or numbness of the face, arm, or leg, on one of both sides
  • Vision troubles in one or both eyes
  • A sudden, severe headache
  • Trouble walking

What to do if you think someone is having a stroke

Think F.A.S.T.

  • Face – Ask the person to smile. Does one side of their face droop? Also ask them to stick out their tongue. Does it twist to one side?
  • Arms – Ask the person to lift both arms. Does one arm drift downward, or not raise at all?
  • Speech – Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is his or her speech strange or slurred? Are the unable to understand, or do they use incorrect words?
  • Time – If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately

How is a stroke treated?

One of the very first treatments used for ischemic stroke is emergency medications, given as soon as possible. These include aspirin, to try to reduce the risk of having another stroke, as well as clot-bursting medications such as tissue plasminogen activator (TPA). The sooner these drugs can be administered, the better the outcome is likelier to be, and the higher the chance of survival. Other emergency procedures will probably be needed, including medication introduced directly to the brain or mechanical clot removal.

For hemorrhagic strokes, treatment is different. If the person is on blood thinners, drugs or transfusions will be needed to counteract the effects of those medications. Drugs to reduce blood pressure may also be used. If there is a high volume of blood in the brain, called a hematoma, surgery may be needed to remove that and to let the body absorb the blood and heal on its own. Surgery might also be necessary to repair blood vessels.

Once the person is stabilized, treatment focuses on making them comfortable and promoting the body’s own healing. Other medical professionals, beyond medical doctors and surgeons, may be used in the healing process, depending on the symptoms of stroke and the damage done to the brain. These include physical therapist, occupational therapists, speech therapists, dieticians, and psychologists or psychiatrists.

Famous people who have had strokes

  • Dick Clark, entertainerGeneral_of_the_Army_Dwight_D._Eisenhower_1947dick_clark_74258273-261x300
  • Zsa Zsa Gabor, actress
  • Bret Michaels, singer
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower, president

Where can I learn more?

Resources in Chicago

Mobility Awareness Monthnational-mobility-awareness-month

According to the Nation Mobility Month’s website:

“National Mobility Awareness Month is dedicated to showing the world how people with disabilities can live active, mobile lifestyles.

The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association and our over 600 members are committed to bringing people living with disabilities the mobility solutions they need to live Life Moving Forward. Each year, we enlist the help of our extensive NMEDA Dealer network and our industry partners and spokespeople to celebrate National Mobility Awareness Month. Together, we reach out to communities across the United States and Canada to raise awareness of handicap vans, trucks and specialty vehicles, hand controls and steering aids, transfer seats and seating solutions, wheelchair tie downs and other adaptive mobility equipment available and give Local Heroes the chance to win their very own Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle.

  • Over 18 million people in the U.S. and Canada have mobility issues
  • People with disabilities constitute the largest minority group in the United States and the only group anyone can become a member of at anytime
  • One in five elderly have mobility issues
  • There are mobility equipment manufacturers, dealers and certified driver rehabilitation specialists in your community dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities
  • Automotive mobility solutions are available for people with disabilities, enabling them to enjoy active, mobile lifestyles”

Learn more at: http://www.mobilityawarenessmonth.com/

Fibromyalgia Awareness MonthFA

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome that affects the muscles and soft tissues, and is commonly characterized by chronic pain. Fatigue, sleep problems, and painful muscle trigger points are also common symptoms of fibro, though there are dozens of other symptoms that are associated with the condition. There is no one test for fibro, so it must be diagnosed by ruling out as many other conditions with similar symptoms as possible.

How is fibromyalgia treated?

Fibromyalgia cannot currently be cured, as doctors still do not know what actually causes it. Medications are commonly the first line of treatment, though there are only three that are currently approved (Cymbalta, Lyrica, and Savella). These medications also come with many different, sometimes debilitating side effects. Other methods of treatment, such as lifestyle changes and physical therapy, are also used when possible.

Famous people who have fibromyalgia

  • Morgan Freeman, actormorgan freeman_042511frida-kahlo-picture
  • Florence Nightingale, nurse
  • Frida Kahlo, artist
  • Rosie Hamlin, singer

Where can I learn more?

Resources in Chicago

Other Holidays, Condition, and Awareness Issues in April

  • Mother’s Day!122375274.1tumblr_inline_n5dgm22Tjt1sstbodecaefee51c0f4d6c595bad1d5c2a6bc4happy-mothers-day
  • ALS Awareness Month
  • Asthma Awareness Month
  • Celiac Awareness Month
  • Lupus Awareness Month
  • National Skin Cancer Awareness Month

What can you do?

  • Educate yourself! Find out everything you can about these disorders – what they are, who they impact, what can be done about them.
  • Get to know someone with a disability! Often, there are stigmas and stereotyped with individuals who have some of these disorders, stigmas that need to be torn down. Take the time to get to know someone with one of the disorders mentioned. You’ll find that they’re people just like you, making the best of what they have!
  • Volunteer or donate! There are hundreds of different organizations who are committed to help people with these diseases and disorders and who conduct research on treatment and prevention, to stop these conditions from affecting others. Check some of them out! Do they need volunteers for an event? Are they fundraising for research and treatment of the condition? What can you do to help them out?
  • Spread the word! Do your part for spreading awareness – educate others!

Happy April!


Happy April, CDEL followers! Hopefully you made it through April Fools’ Day unscathed and unpranked, and that you are excited for spring! April also comes with many different issues brought up for awareness for the month, including autism, Parkinson’s, and sexual assault, as well as various cancers and types of counseling and therapy.

Autism Awareness Monthautismawareness

What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is type of developmental disability, meaning that signs and symptoms of the disorder begin to develop in early childhood, typically in early schooling years or even before. The most prominent symptom is difficulty in interacting and communicating with others, though other symptoms include lack of eye contact, delayed language and learning, poor motor skills, and very intense, specific interests. Autism is considered a spectrum disorder, meaning that individuals with the condition may range in the severity and types of their symptoms, though they all fall under one umbrella diagnosis.

The cause of autism is currently not known. There are many ideas and theories out there for what causes the disorder, ranging from genetics to environmental toxins. We do know, however, that medical treatments such as vaccines do not cause autism.

How is autism treated?

Early recognition of autism is crucial in providing the best and most effective treatment possible for the individual. There is no one right or definitive treatment, however, as every person is unique. Possible types of treatments include:

  • Biomedical treatments, such as diet changes and regulation, as well as supplements and gut treatments
  • Nonmedical interventions, such as teaching the individual coping strategies and how to deal with their condition and live a more normal life
  • Art and music therapy, as well as animal therapy

Famous people with autismtemplegrandinDan Aykroyd

  • James Durbin
  • Temple Grandin
  • Dan Aykroyd
  • Susan Boyle
  • Darryl Hannah

Where can I learn more?

Resources in Chicago

Parkinson’s Awareness Monthgrey-ribbon-lapel-pin-62

What is Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s disease is a condition that impacts a person’s nervous system, and affects movements. The disease is progressive, meaning that it gets worse over time, and it typically comes on gradually. Early symptoms include head tremors, as well as body stiffness and slowness, and may include specific things such as lack of arm swinging while walking, lack of facial expression, and slurred speech.

The cause of Parkinson’s remains unknown, though it is thought that genetics may play a strong role in its development. Certain environmental triggers, such as toxins, can also increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s, though that risk increase is relatively small. There is no test for Parkinson’s; a doctor can diagnosis it based on reported symptoms, as well as through ruling out other conditions and diseases. Another commonly used diagnosis technique is giving the individual Parkinson’s medications and monitoring symptoms. Significant improvement while on these medications is a strong piece of evidence for the presence of the disease.

How is Parkinson’s Treated?

There is currently no known cure for Parkinson’s disease, though there are treatments and medications that have been shown to be effective in controlling symptoms and reducing the progression of the disease. Medications are typically the first line in treatment, and include carbidopa-levodopa, dopamine agonists, and MAO-B inhibitors. In some cases, surgery might be necessary to help control symptoms. This procedure is known as deep brain stimulation (DBS) and involves implanting electrodes into specific parts of the brain and a generator into the chest, near the collar bone. Electrical signals are sent from the generator to the electrodes, and may reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s.

Famous people with Parkinson’spopjohnpauliistreet26_michael_j_fox

  • Muhammad Ali
  • Michael J. Fox
  • Johnny Cash
  • Billy Graham
  • Pope John Paul II

Where can I learn more?

Resources in Chicago

National Minority Health and Health Disparities Awareness Monthminorityhealth

What is minority health month?

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services: Office of Minority Health:

“During National Minority Health Month in April, the HHS Office of Minority Health (OMH) joins with its partners in raising public awareness about  health and health care disparities that continue to affect racial and ethnic minorities and efforts to advance health equity.

The theme for National Minority Health Month 2015 is “30 Years of Advancing Health Equity | The Heckler Report: A Force for Ending Health Disparities in America.” This theme commemorates the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) efforts towards eliminating health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities that were mobilized by the findings from the Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Black and Minority Health, commonly referred to as the Heckler Report.

This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Black and Minority Health, released in 1985 under the leadership of former HHS Secretary Margaret Heckler.  This landmark report marked the first convening of a group of health experts by the U.S. government to conduct a comprehensive study of racial and ethnic minority health and elevated minority health to a national stage.

This milestone anniversary serves as a paramount opportunity to highlight national and local efforts towards eliminating health disparities and advancing health equity, including legislative policy and actions such as the Affordable Care Act, the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, and the National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities.

Despite our country’s progress towards ending health disparities, racial and ethnic minorities continue to face significant health disparities. This means our work is not yet done and we need your help.

Throughout the year OMH – in conjunction with its federal, state, tribal, territorial, and local partners – will raise a clarion call for all Americans to take action towards ending health disparities in their community.  Together through our collective efforts we can accelerate momentum towards achieving a nation free of disparities in health and health care.​”

Where can I learn more?

National Occupational Therapy MonthOT-Month

What is occupational therapy and who does it help?

Occupational therapy (OT) is a type of therapy that helps individuals participate in the activities and tasks that they want to do in life, from going to work, to doing self-care tasks. OT is used in helping individuals who have experienced and accident or health issue to regain the skills that they once had, as well as with individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities. Occupational therapists typically work closely in teams with other doctors and therapists, including primary care physicians, physical therapists, speech therapists, nurses, social workers, and members of the community.

Where can I learn more?

Resources in Chicago

Other Condition and Awareness Issues in Aprilorgandonationribbonsexualviolenceribbonheadneckcancer

  • Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month
  • Testicular Cancer Awareness Month
  • Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month
  • National Counseling Awareness Month
  • National Sexual Assault Awareness Month
  • Alcohol Awareness Month
  • National Child Abuse Prevention Month
  • National Volunteer Month
  • National Donate Life Month

What can you do?

  • Educate yourself! Find out everything you can about these disorders – what they are, who they impact, what can be done about them.
  • Get to know someone with a disability! Often, there are stigmas and stereotyped with individuals who have some of these disorders, stigmas that need to be torn down. Take the time to get to know someone with one of the disorders mentioned. You’ll find that they’re people just like you, making the best of what they have!
  • Volunteer or donate! There are hundreds of different organizations who are committed to help people with these diseases and disorders and who conduct research on treatment and prevention, to stop these conditions from affecting others. Check some of them out! Do they need volunteers for an event? Are they fundraising for research and treatment of the condition? What can you do to help them out?
  • Spread the word! Do your part for spreading awareness – educate others!

The Chicago Disabled & Elderly Population

The Elderly Population in Chicago1-chicago-skyline-jeff-lewis

Typically, any person over 65 is considered “elderly” or a “senior.” In Illinois, there are over 1.6 million individuals over 65, totaling around 12.5 percent of the state’s total population. By 2025, that number is expected to grow to around 2.2 million, or 16.6% of the population.

In the city of Chicago, around 10.3 percent of the population is between 65 and 84, and that number is expected to more than double by the year 2040. That doubling does not even take into account the elderly population that is 85 or older; life expectancy in the United States continue to rise, and that population is also expected to grow over the coming decades.

Seniors face many issues in their day-to-day lives, from chronic health issues to being able to remain independent as they age. The general lack of aging-in-place options and resources for seniors is major barrier to individuals’ ability to remain in their homes. An AARP study found that 90% of seniors age 65 and older desire to stay in their own homes as long as possible. Sadly, lack of resources makes this difficult, as seniors often do not have the services that they need in order to care for both themselves and their home while staying in place. Or, even if the services are available, either the senior cannot afford them, or the service organizations are already so overburdened that they cannot serve everyone who has need. It frequently happens that seniors are forced to move out of their homes because of lack of finances and an inability to maintain their house and lifestyle.

In Chicago, another issue that a surprising amount of seniors face is homelessness. In recent years, the number of elderly homeless individuals has been growing, with many homeless services agencies seeing around a 26% rise in homeless older adults served between 2001 and 2006. The median age of first homelessness is around 47 years old.

There are several main problems that can contribute to homelessness in later life. They include issues such as ageism in employment and chronic health issues. Often, companies want to hire younger employees, and find ways to get rid of older workers, as they are seen as less useful than workers of the younger population. This pushes the aging population out of the workforce, depriving of the income that they need. This loss of income can lead to an increased likelihood of becoming homeless.

In addition, elders often face more health problems that can be draining of resources, especially finances. The stress of paying for medical tests and medications can add a huge strain on elders’ finances, and may contribute to the rates of eventual homelessness. This creates a cycle, as someone who is homeless with health problems has less of a chance of being able to work, creating more barriers to them getting out of their situation.

If seniors meet the financial requirements, they may be eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). For some, SSI may be the only available source of income. Seniors with a disability, or who have worked for long enough and paid Social Security Taxes, may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance.

The Disabled Population in Chicagodisabled_logo

The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law by George H. W. Bush in 1990. This act, at its core, provides “equal opportunity for people with disabilities in public accommodations, commercial facilities, employment, transportation, state and local government services and telecommunications.” It is considered a major civil rights achievement, giving individuals with disabilities both protection and an equal chance at success in life.

According to the language of the ADA, “the term disability means, with respect to an individual: (a) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; (b) a record of such impairment; or (c) being regarded as having such an impairment.” This means that a disability can be any impairment, from physical to psychological, that results in a limited ability to take part in any of life’s daily activities. It must be documented that the individual has the symptoms of that impairment, and they must be considered to have that certain disability, by themselves and medical or psychological professionals.

Disabilities can include a multitude of unique impairments. Generally, they can be broken into one of five different categories: mobility, vision, hearing, speech, or cognitive/developmental. The disability might be congenital, meaning it’s a developmental issue that’s existed since birth, or it might be due to a health problem or accident.

  • An individual with a mobility disability might use a wheelchair or other assistive device, such as a cane, walker, crutches, or splints.
  • Vision disabilities include blindness and other types vision loss or distortion.
  • Hearing disabilities might be loss of hearing or complete deafness.
  • Disabilities involving speech include impediments, muteness, and other cognitive or physical disabilities that make understanding speech, or using language, difficult or impossible. Cognitive disabilities might include conditions such as aphasia, or other conditions, like ALS, that affect speech and language abilities.
  • Cognitive and developmental disabilities include a wide range of issues. Developmental disabilities, such as learning disabilities, dementia, Down syndrome, autism, and cerebral palsy, can impact functioning in all areas. Mental illnesses are also considered to fit into this area, and can include severe cases of schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, depression, and other conditions. Finally, issues such as problems resulting from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), would also fit into cognitive/developmental disabilities.

Finally, there are also medical conditions that may be considered disabilities, though they might not fit neatly into any of the five categories. Often, it is harder to have these conditions considered disabilities, for a variety of reasons. Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and endometriosis are conditions that are considered debilitation, but it is often hard to get them to be considered disabilities, both on a social and a legal level.

Like with elders, individuals with disabilities have two main options available to them, should they not be able to work: SSI and SSDI. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is an option for disabled adults and children, and is based on financial need and limited income and resources. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) may be provided to the individual is that have worked long enough and also paid into Social Security taxes. Adult children who have a disability that started before the age of 22 are also eligible for SSDI.

Even with the availability of government assistance for individuals with disabilities who might not be able to work, people who are disabled still have many barriers and issues that they must face. The threat of homelessness, should they not qualify for assistance and not have a source of income, is very prevalent. In Chicago, 16% of the homeless population has some sort of physical disability and 23% of the Chicago homeless population has some form of severe mental illness. Often, the root of the reason these individuals became homeless is their disability. Like with elders and homelessness, people with disabilities often face a cycle that contributes to their continued situation: their disability made it so they could not work, which caused loss of income and homelessness, and their disability in turn makes it difficult to find work to get themselves out of their situation.

In addition, individuals with disabilities, especially mental disabilities, face much discrimination in the United States. Often, the discrimination is not overt (such as the person being fired for their disability); rather, it takes more of a form of prejudice. Individuals who are disabled might not be considered as worthy or able as those who do not have disabilities. Discrimination can also take the form of not making the necessary, reasonable adjustments that individuals with disabilities need. One example of this, a big issue of the past few weeks in Chicago, is businesses (and home owners) not shoveling snow off of sidewalks. Shoveling is a reasonable adjustment to make, and a necessary one for individuals with mobility issues such as use of a wheelchair or other mobility aids.

People with severe mental illness may be considered broken or not worthy of time or effort. They may be avoided by employers, or people might think that they’re dangerous. These attitudes create a barrier for people with mental illnesses when it comes to finding and keeping employment, as well as with life interactions in general. These outlooks and stereotypes can make life very difficult for people with disabilities when it comes to many areas of life.

cdelWhat Does CDEL Do?

The Center for Disability & Elder Law is committed to providing service to low-income members of the elderly and disabled populations of Chicago. Often, these populations are underserved – they cannot afford the help, so no one provides any, and their legal needs go unmet. CDEL provides pro bono legal work to individuals who are elderly or have disabilities, helping close the gap that exists in access to legal advice and representation. Services provided include anything from legal help with divorces, guardianships, and power of attorney, to issues with housing, unpaid bills, and landlords.

If CDEL cannot provide services, for reasons such as the individual living outside of Cook County, or having too high or an income, or even because the legal issue is beyond the scope of what CDEL does, we provide resources of other organizations and law offices that have the ability to provide service to the individual. We never want someone to walk away without any sort of help, even when we are not the ones who are able to give it. CDEL partners with a wide range of other organizations in Chicago and Illinois who we work with in providing services.

References and Further Reading

Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness. (2011). Homeless over 50: The graying of Chicago’s homeless population. Retrieved from http://www.nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/homeless_Over_50_Report.pdf

Omaye, J. (2013, May 22). Boom in aging population drives need for more aging-in-place options. Medill Reports. Retrieved February 26, 2015, from http://newsarchive.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=221810

The United States Conference of Mayors. (2011). Hunger and homelessness survey: A status report on hunger and homelessness in America’s cities. Retrieved from http://usmayors.org/pressreleases/uploads/2011-hhreport.pdf



It’s March!

Happy March! Things are beginning to look up in Chicago – the high for next Tuesday is 50 degrees! Perhaps spring is on its way!

The warmer March weather will be nice, but there are other things about March that are exciting! March is the awareness month for several diseases and disabilities that The Center for Disability & Elder Law works with, and today we wanted to help raise awareness for a few of them.

endoEndometriosis Awareness Month

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis (end-oh-mee-tree-OH-sis, or endo for short) is a disease of the female reproductive organs that involves uterine tissue (the endometrium) growing outside the uterus. Typically, the lining grows on the ovaries, bowel, uterus, fallopian tubes, or the tissue lining the pelvis. It may in severe cases, however, spread to other areas outside the pelvic region.

Endometriosis can be an extremely painful and debilitating disease. Often, the first symptom is an unusually painful menstruation cycle, though, as the disease progresses, the pain can appear at any time. Other symptoms include excessive bleeding and even infertility.

How is endometriosis treated?

There is no cure for endometriosis, nor even really any reliable treatment. Often, women suffering from endo are prescribed hormonal birth control, as this is thought to limit the growth of endometrial adhesions. Stronger medications may be needed, such as Depo-Provera, or even medications that put the woman into a chemically induced menopause (Lupron). Pain medications may also be prescribed though, with tighter restrictions now on who can receive these meds, this may not be an available option for some.

Should medications not help, surgery may be required. A laparoscopy is where a small lighted tube is inserted via the belly button into the abdomen, and used to illuminate the internal organs as the surgeon uses small instruments, inserted through small incisions, to remove the adhesions. This is considered a conservative, very minimally invasive procedure, and is done under general anesthesia and on an out-patient basis. This procedure may provide some relief, but the adhesions often grow back. More aggressive surgery, such as a hysterectomy, may provide further relief, but this procedure is considered more of a last resort. Even then, there’s no guarantee that the endometriosis won’t grow back.

Fertility treatments may be used to treat infertility issues related to endometriosis, and may greatly increase the chances of the woman being able to conceive and carry to term. Fertility treatments are often suggested by doctors when conservative surgery fails to provide relief of symptoms.

Famous people with endometriosis

  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Dolly Parton
  • Jillian Michaels
  • Whoopie Goldberg

Where can I learn more?

Resources in Chicago

Developmental Disabilities Monthautism-awareness

What are developmental disabilities?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, developmental disabilities “are a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas. These conditions begin during the developmental period, may impact day-to-day functioning, and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime.” These conditions include:

  • Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Down Syndrome
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
  • Fragile X Syndrome
  • Hearing Loss
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Intellectual Disabilities
  • Kernicterus
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Tourette’s Syndrome
  • Vision Impairment
  • And many others…

Developmental disabilities are diagnosed before the age of 22, but are typically diagnosed in early childhood, before schooling begins. Some can even be diagnosed before birth, from ultrasound scans and other testing. Symptoms may be present from birth, and develop as the child grows. Developmental delays are common, as are physical impairments.

How are developmental disabilities treated?

The treatment of the developmental disability greatly varies based on the type of disability. Some are treated with various medications, other with therapies that include psychological, occupational, and physical therapies. Other lesser known, but still highly effective, therapies include sensory integration, music, movement, and art therapy. For many, there are no treatments, nor cures, for the actual disability, only for the symptoms that are associated with them.

Famous people with developmental disabilities

  • Walt Disney – Learning  disability
  • Jim Carrey — ADHD
  • George Washington – Learning Disability
  • Temple Grandin – Autism
  • Dan Ackryod – Tourette’s syndrome

Where can I learn more?

Resources in Chicago

msawarenessMultiple Sclerosis Awareness Month

What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the immune system, in which the autoimmune system mistakes good, normal cells for bad ones, and destroys them. The protective covering of nerve, of the myelin sheath, is the primary target of the immune system in MS. The deterioration of this protective cover results in disrupted communication between the brain and the body.

Symptoms of MS can vary widely, depending on the severity and location of the damaged nerves. According to Mayo clinic, symptoms can include:

  •  “Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs that typically occurs on one side of your body at a time, or the legs and trunk
  • Partial or complete loss of vision, usually in one eye at a time, often with pain during eye movement
  • Double vision or blurring of vision
  • Tingling or pain in parts of your body
  • Electric-shock sensations that occur with certain neck movements, especially bending the neck forward
  • Tremor, lack of coordination or unsteady gait
  • Slurred speech
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Problems with bowel and bladder function”

MS is most often diagnosed as relapsing-remitting, in which there might be symptoms for a time, then a period, lasting months or even years, where there are no symptoms. Many people with relapsing-remitting MS will eventually develop secondary-progressive, in which the symptoms continue to progress without remission. Primary-progressive MS is where an individual experiences a gradual onset of symptoms, with no remission.

The causes of MS are not currently known. It’s thought to be an autoimmune disease, and genetics are thought to play a role in its development. Beyond that, however, researchers are still trying to determine the exact causes and contributing facts to the disease’s development.

There are no specific tests for MS, and the diagnosis primarily relies on ruling out other conditions, rather than ruling MS in. Blood tests to rule out other similar diseases, lumbar punctures to analyze the spinal fluid, and MRIs to get a good view of the brain are all common tests.

How is multiple sclerosis treated?

There is no cure for MS, as the damage already done to the nerves is currently irreversible. Instead, treatment focuses on slowing the progression on the disease and helping the individual recover from attacks more speedily. No medications have been shown to consistently and reliably treat MS, but there are a variety that are commonly used. Other medications are used to treat the symptoms of MS, such as fatigue. Physical therapy is also highly recommended, as are muscle relaxants to try and help with the muscle spasms that are common. Lifestyle change remedies, such as exercise, eating a good diet, getting lots of sleep, keeping cool, and avoiding stress, are also recommended.

Famous people with multiple sclerosis

  • Montel Williams
  • Ann Romney
  • Richard Pryor

Where can I learn more?

Chicago resources

brain-injury-awareness-month-165x300Brain Injury Awareness Month

What are brain injuries?

Brain injuries can be put into two different categories: traumatic brain injury or acquired brain injury. Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) occurs when an outside force damages the brain in some way. This can take the form of a blunt blow to the head, most often resulting in a concussion, or even a penetrating wound, such as being shot or impaled on something. Jolts, such as whiplash, that cause displacement of the brain within the skull, are also considered TBIs.

Acquired brain injuries (ABIs) are different from TBIs. According to the Brain Injury Association of American, an ABI “is an injury to the brain, which is not hereditary, congenital, degenerative, or induced by birth trauma. An acquired brain injury is an injury to the brain that has occurred after birth.” This includes things like brain injury from strokes, tumors, electric shock, or even near drowning.

How are brain injuries treated?

The treatment of the brain injury highly depends on the cause of the injury. Every single brain injury is different. A brain injury is typically an emergency situation, so the first line of care is in the emergency room, followed usually by time in the intensive care unit (ICU). Treatment and recovery from the injury may begin as soon as possible. Types of treatment include:

  • Medications to treat symptoms and prevent further injuries (such as blood clots)
  • Psychiatric care, for both care of the injury and help with any psychological trauma that may also be a result of the event that caused the brain injury
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Aquatic therapy
  • Speech/language rehabilitation
  • Recreational therapy

For other causes of brain injuries, treatment may be totally different, but rehabilitation will typically look similar, focusing on improving brain function and helping the individual regain cognitive, and even physical, skills.

Famous people with brain injuries

  • Abraham Lincoln – TBI, kicked by a mule
  • Bob Woodruff – TBI, roadside bomb
  • Dick Clark – Stroke
  • Gary Busey – TBI, motorcycle accident
  • George Clooney – TBI, accident during filming

Where can I learn more?

Chicago resources

Other Awareness Conditions and Issues in March TrisomyAWARENESS_SmallHeartColon-Cancer-Ribboncerebral palsy

  • Trisomy Awareness Month
  • Learning Disabilities Month
  • Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month
  • Colon Cancer Awareness Month
  • National Nutrition Month
  • National Kidney Month
  • Sleep Awareness Month
  • Women’s History Month
  • National Reading Awareness Month

What can you do?

  • Educate yourself! Find out everything you can about these disorders – what they are, who they impact, what can be done about them.
  • Get to know someone with a disability! Often, there are stigmas and stereotyped with individuals who have some of these disorders, stigmas that need to be torn down. Take the time to get to know someone with one of the disorders mentioned. You’ll find that they’re people just like you, making the best of what they have!
  • Volunteer or donate! There are hundreds of different organizations who are committed to help people with these diseases and disorders and who conduct research on treatment and prevention, to stop these conditions from affecting others. Check some of them out! Do they need volunteers for an event? Are they fundraising for research and treatment of the condition? What can you do to help them out?
  • Spread the word! Do your part for spreading awareness – educate others!

Harper Lee and Elder Abuse

Nelle_Harper_LeeIn recent weeks, there has been much speculation about some truly astonishing news – Harper Lee, the famous and reclusive author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” will be releasing a new novel, a sequel to her first and only, in July. “Go Set a Watchman,”which was actually written before “Mockingbird” and then discarded, will feature many of the original beloved characters from “To Kill a Mockingbird,” mainly Scout Finch, who is now an adult. It has been 55 years since Lee, pictured above, released “Mockingbird,” and she has famously said that she regrets all her fame, and they she had no idea that she would be so thrown into the spotlightTo_Kill_a_Mockingbird when she originally published the book. She has been a staunch recluse for the past half century, labeling herself as Boo Radley, and insisting that she would never publish another novel. Her sister, Alice, pictured below, has been her defender since the beginning, acting as both her lawyer and protector, shielding her from unwanted contact and rumor, and supporting her will to remain solitary and not publish again. Alice died at the end of last year, at the age of 103. The timing of the announcement of the novel’s discovery and release, so closely following Alice Lee’s death, has raised red flags for some.

aliceleeMany, including friends and colleagues of Lee, are stunned by the announcement of “Watchman’s” publication – there is strong speculation that this might not be Lee’s choice, that she might have been pressured into releasing the novel by her lawyer or her publishing company. As of now, Lee has yet to directly communicate with anyone except her lawyer about the decision to publish the novel. All statements and communication are coming through her lawyer, who reportedly was the one who rediscovered the original manuscript of the novel. Not even the publishing company has spoken with Lee. The fear of many is that Lee, who is reportedly mostly blind and deaf following a 2007 stroke, and who, it has also been stated by Alice Lee, will basically sign anything put in front of her, is being taken advantage of by her lawyer. The question is being asked by many: Is Harper Lee a victim of elder abuse?


What is elder abuse?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Administration on Aging defines elder abuse as “a term referring to any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult,” and the World Health Organization states that elder abuse “is a violation of human rights and a significant cause of illness, injury, loss of productivity, isolation and despair.” Abuse may include physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, as well as neglect, abandonment, self-neglect, and exploitation. Exploitation, especially when it comes to finances, is by far the most reported abuse, and is at the center of the controversy surrounding Lee and her new book.

Who experiences elder abuse?blackeye

The population of adults over 65 is at its largest in U.S. history, and is expected to continue to grow as the Baby Boomer population ages. The 2010 census estimates that there are 40.3 million individuals over 65, or 13% of the population, and it is estimated that by 2050, 20% of the population will be above that age, with more than 19 million over the age of 85. Members of this population, especially those with disabilities or who must rely on caregivers, are at particular risk for this type of abuse.

It is difficult to know or estimate exactly how many individuals experience elder abuse, as it tends to be underreported and go unnoticed. One study estimates that a mere 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse are reported to the proper authorities. Most recent studies estimate that between 7.6% and 10% of elders will have experienced abuse in the past year. It is, however, reported by the Adult Protective Services that incidence of elder abuse is on the rise. The vast majority of abuse cases (more than 90%) are perpetrated by family members, mainly adult children, spouses, and partners, and having a family member with a history of substance abuse, or who consider caring for their family member to be a burden, increased the risk of abuse.

In addition, elders who have forms of dementia are at a higher risk of being victims of elder abuse. Several recent studies have reported that as much as half of the population experiencing dementia have been victims of abuse, often at the hands of caretakers. Elders who live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are also more likely to become victims of abuse, often from employees and caretakers. In a shocking study of 2000 nursing homes, Broyles (2000) reported that 44% of residents reported experiencing abuse, and that 95% reported being neglected or seeing other residents being neglected.

What is the impact of elder abuse?

One 2009 study found that elders who are the victims of abuse, even abuse that could be considered mild, have a 300% higher risk of death than those who do not. In addition, elders who experience abuse tend to have greater psychological distress, as well as more physical medical problems, from chronic pain to high blood pressure. The cost of elder abuse is clear when the health of the victims is examined.

What signs should you be looking for and what can be done to prevent elder abuse?

The Administration on Aging provides an excellent list of warning signs of elder abuse. It is important, to remember, however, that one sign may not necessarily mean abuse, and that signs and symptoms must be looked at as a whole. The AoA’s list is as follows:

  • “Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment.
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
  • Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person are also signs.”

checkbookIt is imperative to be on the lookout for elder abuse, and to report it when it is suspected. It is better to report a suspicion and be wrong than it is to not report out of fear of being incorrect, and to later discover that abuse was indeed occurring.

If you suspect elder abuse, and the elder is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1 or your local police department immediately. If the elder is not in immediate danger, there are other resources that may be contacted. Adult Protective Services are the first and best agency to contact. Numbers for APS by state my be found at the National Center on Elder Abuse’s State Resources webpage. If you are an elder who has experienced or is experiencing elder abuse, it is important to remember that you are not alone and that there are people who care for you and who can help you. Please tell someone you trust, whether it be a family member, friend, or even a doctor. You can also call the Eldercare Locator immediately at 1-800-677-1116, and an operator can refer you to local agencies that will be able to help you.

Finally, if you suspect nursing home abuse, please contact your Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

Regardless of who you call, you should be prepared with several pieces of information, including the elder’s name and address, the contact information, and the reasons you are concerned for their welfare. You might also be asked about any disabilities that may have, including memory issues, medical problems, what the elder’s support group is like, and if you have seen any incidences of violence, such as hitting or yelling, involving the elder. You will also be asked to give your own name and contact information, though more often than not, agencies will take your report even if you are not willing to provide that information.

Following a report and if there is suspicion that elder abuse is indeed occurring, APS will assign a caseworker and the claim will be investigated. Elder abuse is most often investigated by APS first, though law enforcement, Long-Term Care Ombudsman, and Eldercare Locator may also be involved.


What does CDEL do when it encounters elder abuse?

The Center for Disability & Elder Law is committed to reporting and elder abuse if and when it is encountered. In working with the elderly population, and with elders who may have disabilities, it is crucial to be on the lookout for any signs of elder abuse, as that population is more vulnerable. Typically, CDEL encounters abuse cases that are mostly related to exploitation, mainly financial. Often, the abuse will come to light when an adult child or guardian is seeking law help for the elder. If physical abuse is suspected, CDEL is committed to being sure that the proper authorities are contacted, and that the victim of the abuse receives the care that they need.

Harper Lee and Elder Abuseharper-lee1

It is highly likely that the public will never know the details behind the decision to release “Go Set a Watchman,” barring Lee giving an in-person interview about it, which she has refused to do for decades. Speculation and rumors will continue to swirl from now until the novel’s release, and for long after. While we’ll probably never know if there was abuse or not, the news of the new novel and its controversy has brought elder abuse, a major issue impacting a vulnerable population, to the spotlight. Elder abuse tends to be ignored, especially considering the other types of abuse that happens to other populations and age groups. Compared to other cultures, elders in our culture are typically given less attention than others, and the issues that impact them, especially abuse, tend to be ignored. It is critical that there is a discussion of elder abuse, as well as education on what to do when abuse is suspected, and what can be done to prevent it. Without that, there will never be a reduction in such abuse’s incidence.

Read more:



Broyles, K. (2000). The silenced voice speaks out: A study of abuse and neglect of nursing home residents. A report from the Atlanta Long Term Care Ombudsman Program and Atlanta Legal Aid Society to the National Citizens Coalition for Nursing Home Reform. Atlanta, Ga: Authors.

Dong X, Simon M, Mendes de Leon C, Fulmer T, Beck T, Hebert L, et al. (2009) Elder self-neglect and abuse and mortality risk in a community-dwelling population. Journal of the American Medical Association, 302(5),517-526.



Get to know us!

Welcome to the Center for Disability & Elder Law! (CDEL)

CDEL is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to serving the legal needs of low-income seniors and people living with disabilities.  CDEL was incorporated in 1982 by the Chicago Bar Association and opened its doors in 1984. Last year, CDEL celebrated 30 years of providing pro bono legal service, and is now in its 31st year.  CDEL was founded with the purpose of closing the profound gap that exists in the provision of legal services faced by individuals, specifically elders and persons with disabilities, who are marginalized by poverty by providing this clientele access to the legal justice system.  In a society in which rights and responsibilities are increasingly defined in legal terms, access to legal services is of critical importance for all.

CDEL has a dual mission:

1) To provide quality pro bono legal services to low-income seniors and persons with disabilities in Chicago and Cook County, and

2) To foster the spirit of pro bono service throughout the Chicago and Cook County legal communities.

CDEL’s organizational structure consists of a modest staff which supports a network of over 1,000 volunteer attorneys and paralegals, approximately 300 of whom were actively involved in providing legal assistance to 1,777 seniors and persons with disabilities in 2014.

To accomplish the first goal of its dual mission, CDEL provides pro bono legal services through direct representation in several civil practice areas, including: guardianship, estate planning, wills and advance directives, landlord/tenant, collections defense, consumer fraud, uncontested divorce, and financial elder abuse.  CDEL also provides legal services through three Programs which focus on issues that have a great impact on our clientele, including: the Senior Center Initiative (SCI), the Senior Tax Opportunity Program (STOP) and the Senior Legal Assistance Clinics (SLAC).  In addition, CDEL administers the Pro Se Adult Guardianship Help Desk in conjunction with, and located at, the Circuit Court of Cook County, Probate Division.  CDEL accomplishes the second goal of its mission by providing trainings to volunteer attorneys, placing cases with attorneys willing to take on work pro bono, and utilizing volunteers in-house and with all of CDEL’s programs.

The number of persons in the United States age 65 or older is expected to double by 2030 and there are few resources available to assist this growing population with their legal matters.  There are even fewer legal resources available to low-income persons with disabilities.  These persons encounter financial, physical, communication, and attitudinal barriers that frequently restrict and preclude meaningful access to the legal system.

In Cook County, the number of low-income persons who are either elderly or who have a disability, and the need for legal assistance by these populations, continues to grow.  Census data for 2010 reports that of the 5,128,124 persons residing in Cook County, 856,3610 (16.7%) report household incomes below the poverty level; and 68,440 (11.3%) are age 65 or older.  CDEL clients must be within 150% of the federal poverty level, and in Cook County approximately 1,376,713 residents live at or below 150% of the poverty line.  Due to this increase in the applicable populations, the mission of the Center for Disability & Elder Law is more relevant, and the need for legal assistance to these populations is more critical, than it was when CDEL began more than thirty years ago.

The need for legal services among these populations far exceeds the resources available.  The existing legal services in Illinois and in Cook County cannot meet the current need.  According to research conducted by the Chicago Bar Foundation, The Lawyers Trust Fund, and other organizations, almost half (49%) of all low income residents of Illinois experienced a legal need during the year of the study.  As a result, it is incumbent upon each legal service to provide the best, most effective, and most efficient legal services possible to its respective populations.

The operations of CDEL are undertaken by a small staff of four full time permanent attorneys and one full time administrative assistant.  In addition, oversight of the CDEL is administered by a very engaged Board of Directors, which consists of attorneys from many of Cook County’s most prestigious law firms and corporations, as well as other professionals.  Finally, the Board of Directors is augmented by a Young Professionals Board, which consists of younger attorneys and law students dedicated to CDEL’s mission.