Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Judge Blunt details Alzheimer's impact on her life “I live with Alzheimer's disease every day,” says Mary Blunt, Dorchester County Probate Judge. Judge Blunt's mother was diagnosed with the disease in 2008. “If it can happen to my mom – such an accomplished and brilliant woman – it can happen to anyone.” Judge Blunt's mother, Dr. Lidia Vallarino, was a chemistry professor, research scientist, and a pioneer for women in the sciences. She received her Ph.D. in Chemistry in 1954 from the University of Milano in Italy and spent the next 50 years researching, teaching, writing, and devoting her life to her passion for teaching chemistry. Affectionately known as “Dr. V.” by her students, she was a tireless mentor to students of all ages, backgrounds, and cultures. “We often had overseas students living with us, and students were often stopping by her lab to ask for advice – both professional and personal. She was a wise, kind person who loved to guide students through chemistry and life.” Judge Blunt also lives with Alzheimer's and other dementia-related diseases every day with the work she does at the Probate Court. The Probate Court handles guardianships and conservatorships for adults who are incapacitated due to a disease such as Alzheimer's. “Many tragic situations bring families to the Probate Court,” explains Judge Blunt. For example, once someone is unable to care for himself, without certain legal documents in place, the only way to help is to seek a guardianship or conservatorship from the Probate Court. The Probate Court strives to treat families with the same compassion she would want for her own family. “If we treat families with respect, we can move the process from one of fear to one of understanding.” In an effort to demystify the process, Judge Blunt speaks to groups around Dorchester County on the importance of having a durable power of attorney and health care power of attorney and also on the process at the Probate Court. Peg Lahmeyer, Executive Director of The ARK says, “Judge Blunt spoke at several of our Alzheimer's groups. Our families were very grateful for her valuable information. We are blessed to have someone in this position who cares about our families and knows the law so well.” The recent census showed a 40,000 person – or 41.6% – increase in Dorchester County over the last ten years, with much of the population over the age of 60. This means more and more cases for the Court. Associate Judge Russell A. DeMott says, “With each family in a guardianship or conservatorship hearing, we try to put ourselves in their shoes when hearing the case.” For Dorchester Probate Judges, that means applying the law and facts, while also considering the personal circumstances in the case. In addition to the guardianship and conservatorship cases, the Probate Court presides over hearings for estate matters, trust issues, the mentally ill and drug addicted, and settlements for wrongful deaths and minor personal injury cases. Currently the Court has over 900 open estates and over 250 open guardian and conservatorships, and in the past year, it handled over 1000 mental health and drug cases and numerous hearings on other issues. Judge Blunt also serves as a secondary judge on the Drug Court. The Court has a staff of five with one full-time judge and one part-time judgeship. “There is a silver lining to my mom having Alzheimer's: it has made me an even more compassionate judge in these types of cases,” concludes Blunt. It has also inspired Judge Blunt to be the Title Sponsor for the Dancing With the ARK's Stars Event, which supports The ARK, Alzheimer's family support services, a facility that Judge Blunt's mom attends. As she serves Dorchester County for another term, Judge Blunt is prepared to help families in the Court as they journey through this disease.