Jed’s Eye View: The gray wave is here

Rappahannock County is in the midst of a type of growth that cannot be controlled by zoning, or any other way: the numbers of gray-haired folks are zooming upwards.

Lots of folks have a sense of this. Indeed, a research and analysis unit of the University of Virginia, the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, has put numbers to the coming growth in the population of older people; the researchers have done the figuring for the entire commonwealth, and here is what they see ahead for our county: Just six years from now, in 2020, the center expects there will be more than 2,700 people over the age of 60 in Rappahannock. Okay so far. Then, 10 years later, the number will be over 3,000.

These numbers stand against the estimate of  about 1,500 60-plus men and women in the county in 2010. Why the huge jump? A near-doubling of senior men and women? You could call it the Boomer Bulge: those in their 50s now, at the tail of the Boomer generation, turning 60 — and older.

With this wave of older folks come new challenges. As outlined in this newspaper last week by Patty Hardee, the senior population is very attractive to thieves, scammers, shady opportunists and assorted fast-talkers. (At this point it is likely that Bob Hope would say “Iʼm not just talking about politicians!”) Alas, it is not a matter for joking. Thieves, some working over the telephone and some appearing at oneʼs front door, find older people vulnerable and gullible.

How can people be protected from this sort of crime? How does society even begin to consider stopping a person’s moving into the home of an older citizen, claiming to be a caregiver and — even out in the open — taking over the checkbook? This particular crime has occurred in Rappahannock County, and is almost certain to happen again. Who could step in? How could someone in authority even know when or how to act in defense of the victim? Who would be able to judge whether the smile of the “caregiver” is sincere?

Who will explain, to each woman and man in the county, that the Internal Revenue Service does not, repeat not, make telephone calls to taxpayers. The government does its dunning by letter, not over the phone. How can we make sure that every last one of us in Rappahannock County understands that?

The sheriff, the folks in Social Services, and many earnest people in nonprofit agencies are often the first to hear of the many crimes that victimize old people, but only after the fact. It is very difficult for those in these agencies to stop the scam ahead of time.

The wave of gray in the county also presents huge challenges for families and friends of those whose minds are gradually deteriorating, losing a little each day to dementia, Alzheimerʼs and other afflictions of advanced years. Who will care for these folks as they drift further from their loved ones?

Just as stepping in, ahead of time, to help prevent older people from becoming victims of scammers, is difficult, so is finding and helping the families of people who are slowly losing their memories. Two years ago Alzheimer‘s-care researchers conducted a study they called “Connections” over a rural five-county area, which included Rappahannock. The researchers wanted to send specialists in care into the homes of Alzheimerʼs patients to — one — help the patients with basic learning and — two — help the caregivers in the family deal with the gradual deterioration of the mind of a loved one. After combing Rappahannock County, the researchers could turn up only one family willing to participate in the program.

Even though there are many challenges arising out of this growing older population right here in Rappahannock, there are also many thoughtful, industrious people working on those challenges. They understand that there is a generation of vulnerability, and they are well into discussions and study of how to deal with what is already with us, and what awaits us over the next decade.

These capable people, both in government and in private, nonprofit organizations are asking themselves, in effect, will we plan now, or will we stumble then?