County offers resources for older adults

Demographics: With the senior population growing, Howard works to maintain programs and services for the elderly.

March 21, 2004|By Rona S. Hirsch | Rona S. Hirsch,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Like dancers in a backstage chorus line, participants kicked and turned to every command.

While some giggled or caught their breath amid the intricate steps of the Bump, the Hustle and the New Jersey Skate, the group held steadfast as Shirley Duncan instructed them to "bump to the left, bump to the right."

Although closer in generation to Fred Astaire than to John Travolta, the 23 eager participants are members of Urban Line Dancing, one of many programs offered at Florence Bain Senior Center in Columbia.

"I need action," said Jean Evansmore, a retired Clarksville child care teacher who also signed up for ballroom dancing. "If you're active, you keep your mind on something else other than your aches and pains."

Fellow dancer Elizabeth Simms of Columbia, who takes computer classes at the center, filed her taxes in its tax program. "Right now I can use everything available because I drive," said Simms, a retired federal worker. "But when I can't drive anymore, I will need extended services."

Senior services in Howard County are expanding as new programs and senior housing are developing to accommodate changing demographics.

"Programs have to be in place," Evansmore said. "Years ago, programs didn't exist because they didn't need them. People our age were `old,' or they were dead. And if people did live that long, family took care of them."

Population projections indicate that by 2010 there will be 44,977 seniors in the county, making up to 19 percent of the population. By 2020, the senior population will grow to nearly 69,000 - more than twice the projected growth rate for seniors in the state as a whole.

"It's coming. We're at the crest," said Barbara Harris, public education and information manager for the Howard County Office on Aging. "Right now we have to do planning. It's different than 10 years ago - we're helping them prepare for making informed decisions at an earlier age. We also want to reach the adult children who will have to make important decisions about their long-term care."

But waiting lists for services are growing, too.

"Because of the need, everybody is going for the scarce resources out there," Harris said. "The funding is not keeping up with the population growth."

Seniors can enter the system through the Office on Aging's Senior and Information Assistance, which provides information on the services, programs and benefits available as well as referrals.

The agency's Adult Evaluation Review Service may arrange a voluntary assessment, in which a nurse or social worker may come to the senior's home and provide referrals for services to suit individual circumstances.

The Aging and Disability Resource Center, a pilot program beginning in August, will streamline information on available services for the Office on Aging, Client Services Division. "It's a one-stop shop, from soup to nuts, for someone of age to ask questions on maintaining themselves in the community," Harris said.

The resource center was launched after the federal Administration on Aging and the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services awarded a grant to the state for two pilot programs in Howard and Worcester counties. There are 12 programs nationwide.

The first stage of the three-year project will be informational, such as where to find a nursing home. In September, the resource center will offer a Web site with links to long-term services information.

The county's Senior Health Insurance Assistance Program provides information on health insurance, services in Medicare claims and billing problems and assistance in selecting appropriate MediGap, managed care or long-term insurance coverage.

Beginning in May, seniors may enroll in the voluntary Medicare-approved drug discount cards program. "This is one of the biggest issues for the senior population - how to pay for drugs," said coordinator Jeanette Krapcho.

Enrollment costs about $30 for the program, which offers 10 percent to 15 percent discounts on prescriptions and a $600 credit for low-income seniors. The interim program will run until Jan. 1, 2006, when prescription drug benefits of the new Medicare legislation begin.

The county's eight senior centers and four senior center-plus sites offer educational and recreational activities, support groups and health screenings.

But the centers aren't just for the elderly.

"We're reaching people that are younger, in their 50s," said Starr Sowers, director of senior center operations. "They're taking exercise classes, computer classes, massage, woodshop and legal counseling. Interests change. Our sewing room was changed to a computer class. Five years ago, we put in an exercise floor because of all the aerobics classes."

Construction of a new senior center in western Howard County will begin in the fall to replace the Allen House, while Florence Bain Senior Center will be renovated and expanded by year's end. "We need to increase program space because more people are using the building," Sowers said.

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