Life for Carroll's seniors could be worse.
But it also could be better if they had more transportation, independence and income, say those age 60 and over who responded to researchers' questions about income, transportation, fear of crime, isolation and other factors that affect quality of life.
When researchers charted seniors' satisfaction with life in Carroll, the pattern pretty much matched the county's landscape -- few high peaks or low points.
"Not very many people told us life was wonderful. Not too many people told us it was terrible. Mostly, it was somewhere in the middle," said Jon E. Burkhardt of Ecosometrics Inc., the Bethesda-based consulting firm that conducted the random survey of 313 of the county's senior citizens (60 and older).
"The vast majority of old folks in the county are living independently, and they're living well," he said.
Burkhardt's staff found that 58 percent were "somewhat satisfied" with life, 38 percent were "very satisfied," and 4 percent were dissatisfied.
For the dissatisfied, the most common factors were uncertainty about their future, such as income and housing, and living in a house that needed repairs, the study says.
Several members of the South Carroll Senior Center, run by the Department of Aging, did not participate in the poll but agreed with its findings: Yes, they have problems, but they have learned to accept the changes age has brought to their lives.
"It's little things you start to have to give up," said Alice, 80, who asked that her last name not be used. "Instead of a good piece of steak, you buy ground beef. A Sunday paper costs $6.50 a month. You start figuring, 'Maybe I could do without that.' " Alice lives in an apartment in her daughter and son-in-law's home.
"If I had to pay rent, I couldn't live there," she said. "I wish I could do more to help them (financially)."
Ecosometrics interviewed the seniors in person, in their own homes, between October and December 1989. While the study provides statistics, seniors at the South Carroll center provided human perspective: * Income -- The county's oldest residents are also the poorest.
The over-60 group had a median income of $13,940, compared to a median of $44,650 for all ages in the county. Although the seniors' income is much lower than for other adults, 64 percent of the seniors owned their own homes and had paid off the mortgage, and 83 percent lived in their own homes with no assistance in paying housing costs.
Ruth Gosnell, 73, of Taylorsville said that although she and her husband, Robert, no longer have a mortgage on their home of 20 years, they do have to pay taxes and keep up the place.
* Transportation -- Most seniors get around in cars -- 85 percent lived in households with an automobile. Though transportation was a problem for a relatively small group of seniors, it had the most negative effect on their satisfaction with life, Burkhardt said.
Seniors at the South Carroll facility unanimously agreed that the county needs to provide more transportation for seniors to the centers, as well as for shopping, doctor appointments and other errands. Fares were increased this year to $1 each way to senior centers, and more, depending on distance, for errands.
"I have a car, I drive, but that costs a lot, too," Alice said.
"With the gasoline price rising, it costs you as much as riding a bus."
Some seniors, such as Blanche Taylor, 80, of Sykesville, gave up their driver's licenses for health reasons.
"I had a heart attack. My doctor suggested I give up my license, and I agreed with him," Taylor said. She said she doesn't regret her decision, and relies on the buses and her daughter for transportation.
But Viola Whittaker, 79, of Sykesville, said her relatives live in other towns. Sometimes one of her children or grandchildren will take her grocery shopping.
"I can't call them every day," she said. "They have children of their own." She relies on buses for trips to the senior center.
* Isolation -- As with lack of transportation, the few seniors who listed isolation as a main concern were always strongly affected by it, Burkhardt said.
Two women who regularly attend the South Carroll center moved to the county to live with their grown children, but they said they miss their longtime friends back in Baltimore.
Mildred Lotz, 84, of Strawbridge, and Gladys Homberg, 77, of Sykesville, both said they never see their friends back in the city.
"I talk to them on the phone a lot, I just don't visit them," Lotz said.
"Do I miss my friends a lot? Yes. A lot. A very lot," Homberg said. "I lived in a row house. It is very isolated out here. The houses are so far apart."
But both said they worry less about crime in Carroll than they would if they still lived in the city, and find life enjoyable here.
"From my observation, I think it's very pleasant, I have no fault to find," Lotz said.