Healthy Aging in Hampton Roads: The Future Looks Bright!

Newsletter | Apr 3, 2017 | Hook Law Center

Due to advances in healthcare and improved assistive devices, many Americans are healthier in old age and are living longer. The population of Americans over 65 has increased by approximately 30% in the last decade and is projected to continue increasing at a significant rate for the foreseeable future. So how is our region growing to accommodate the needs of an increasing older population locally? The answer appears to be best illustrated in steel, cement, and glass that is appearing (or is scheduled to appear) throughout the region.

In Norfolk many improvements are providing benefit to residents of all ages, including those in or nearing retirement. If you take a drive around downtown Norfolk you will see numerous apartment buildings that have sprung from the shells of old buildings, offering living options in an area that formerly had limited housing stock. An accessible new library was recently completed and the courthouse is on phase two of construction, respectively. If you open your ears you hear the soft “ding” of the light rail as it approaches. Look up on Granby Street and you will see lighted archways at night, providing much better illumination than in previous years. These features have made downtown much more vibrant generally but also more accessible and livable to those 65 and older. Further west down Norfolk’s southern waterfront a new senior living residence tower is planned, which will offer expanded inventory for those who wish to downsize into a community that can accommodate care needs.

The new construction in Norfolk is illustrative of broader changes happening throughout Hampton Roads. Construction and expansion of current care facilities throughout the region has been joined by increased independent retirement homes popping up in Suffolk, Virginia Beach, and elsewhere throughout the region. Soon, a new Veterans Administration facility will be here to provide assistance to our veteran population in Hampton Roads with significant care needs.

A major concern for many seniors is transportation and here technology and new developments are also leading the way. Phone applications like Uber and Lyft have made it unnecessary for many to have a car, including seniors. Furthermore areas like downtown Norfolk, Town Center, the Oceanfront, Old Town Portsmouth, and others are readily walkable and do not require a car for everyday needs. Many of our clients are choosing to sell their cars and find that they (and their family members) are relieved that driving is no longer necessary and car maintenance is a thing of the past.

Medical innovation and improving in-home care are also improving the quality of services to the disabled in our community. E-health and telemedicine are becoming more prevalent, which allows doctors to provide nearly 24/7 access to patients. Despite the trend away from house calls there are physicians in the area who are willing to meet with patients in their home. Also, families can now take a more “hands on” approach to managing in-home care providers (such as nurses and care assistants), even if they live out of the area. Modern technology provides the opportunity to coordinate what used to be a job that could only be done on-site. Additionally, tax withholding and other administrative tasks are increasingly be assisted by care agencies themselves, or online vendors, which helps families avoid common missteps seen when employing in-home caregivers and other employees.

In addition to new buildings, transportation options, and medical services, the growing senior population has given rise to more social, charitable, and special interest groups geared to that population’s needs. There are charities that match companions with individuals in assisted living and nursing facilities. Social groups for seniors allow the forging of new friendships and connections later in life. These connections provide vastly improved social wellbeing for many of our clients who have lost friends or spouses.

At Hook Law Center our staff and Elder Law attorneys constantly try to keep up with all of the new developments benefitting our clients. As you can see these developments are often not legal ones. By taking a holistic approach to the needs of our clients we feel our clients’ plans are better coordinated for their benefit.

Ask Kit Kat – Western Ferrets

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about ferrets returning to the Western prairies?

Kit Kat:  Well, this is a success story! As recently as 1981, the ferret was thought to be extinct on the Western prairie. Once they roamed from Saskatchewan to the Mexican state of Chihuahua. However, in 1981 one was discovered on a ranch in Wyoming. It had been found dead by the owner of the ranch, but Allen Hogg was a ferret devotee, his devotion instilled in him by his mother. Hogg immediately contacted the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish. They sent a horde of researchers and field technicians. They were ecstatic to find 100 ferrets living on Hoggs’ Lazy BV Ranch and its neighbor, the Pitchfork Ranch. Ferrets are carnivores whose favorite meal is the prairie dog. Ferrets can’t live without them being in close proximity. They live in the tunnels that prairie dogs have created and only venture out at night. Their telltale green eyes alert you to their presence. When ranchers started eradicating the prairie dog because they were consumers of the same grasses they wanted for their cattle, the ferret declined quickly.

So back to the ferrets’ reappearance in 1981.Things were going well until both prairie dogs and the ferrets started to die from disease. It turns out prairie dogs are susceptible to fleas which carry sylvatic plague, the same plague that killed so many in Europe in the Middle Ages. Without their food source, the ferret could not survive. The ferret, in turn, is susceptible to canine distemper, a deadly illness. The combination of the 2 maladies reduced both populations. By 1987, there were only 18 ferrets left. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decided to intervene and breed the ferrets in captivity, while others worked on the disease problem. The plan worked– in 30 years, 8,500 kits have been born. They are then released into the wild. Trial and error has resulted in the ferrets being vaccinated against the plague, and the prairie dogs receive protection through insecticide scattered in their burrows. It’s not 100% perfect, but it has increased the survival rate. In addition, ranchers now have an incentive to let the ferrets thrive in the wild. Rule 10 J of the Endangered Species Act protects landowners from culpability if a protected species, like the ferret, is accidentally harmed on their property. It’s good for all parties involved, and we Americans get to enjoy the lovely ferret once more. (Scott McMillion, “Return of a Ghost,” Nature Conservancy, Spring 2017, p. 36-41)

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