Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 1999


An entrenched stereotype about the elderly is that they inevitably experience a progressive decline in cognitive function - what the Article calls the "idea of decrement." The vast majority of elderly, however, do not experience declining competence for most or all of their lives. Nevertheless, attorneys interpret much of what elderly clients say and do as the product of cognitive impairment, and sometimes even the elderly themselves construct stories about the world and their circumstances in line with the idea of decrement. These attitudes and social constructions, interacting in complex ways, can distort the ability of attorneys to represent elderly clients effectively. Moreover, these processes also apply to all clients given that all clients are part of a group of groups subject to stereotyping. The representation of the elderly thus holds lessons about conceptualizing and teaching how attorneys can and should represent all clients.