Mature considerations

The 50+ Expo focuses on emergency preparedness, maintaining one's health and enjoying life as an older resident of Howard County


When Pat Buchanan's husband was in the military, she was prepared to evacuate the base they lived on at a moment's notice in case of an emergency.

"Now I'm totally unprepared," said Buchanan, who lives in Hickory Crest, a seniors community in Columbia.

To get prepared, Buchanan attended an emergency-planning demonstration Friday at Howard County's seventh 50+ Expo, an event catering to the needs of the county's growing senior population.

The expo fell at the end of the county's first Community Readiness Week, which focused on disaster preparedness for county residents of all ages. The demonstration at the expo was geared toward teaching seniors how to take care of themselves after a large-scale disaster.

Neil Dorsey, a Red Cross volunteer on Howard County's Disaster Action Team, suggested people prepare to be self-sufficient for at least three days after a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

"It's going to take a while for the government to figure out what is going on," Dorsey said. "Normal lines of communication are not normal anymore."

To improve those lines of communication during a disaster, county officials are developing an AM radio station and a community notification system that will call residents to provide guidance on how to respond. Still, Dorsey and other volunteers encouraged those who attended the expo to prepare emergency kits that include food, medicine and clothes, and to establish a community plan of action to help elderly and disabled residents who might have difficulty fending for themselves.

That kind of guidance is part of a larger campaign to provide information to the county's burgeoning population of seniors, according to Shelley Garten, assistant administrator of the Howard County Office on Aging.

The Maryland Department of Planning and Aging projects that between 2000 and 2020 the number of residents older than age 60 will grow by 169 percent, twice the average overall growth rate projected for Maryland.

The expo, held at Wilde Lake High School, attracted thousands of seniors, who visited booths and vendors' stalls offering information on everything from keeping track of daily medications to purchasing gutters that never need to be cleaned.

"We want to give as much exposure to as many different people as we can at one time," Garten said.

She said one goal of the expo was to help retirees find activities to keep them busy and active, such as volunteering in hospitals or working on political campaigns.

"You pair people with their interests," she said.

The county also is looking for ways make life easier for seniors who want to remain in the county. One means of accomplishing that, Garten said, is using flexible building designs that allow dwellings to be modified easily as owners age and their needs change. For example, closets on different floors can be stacked so that later they can be replaced with an elevator.

Those in attendance also learned about a prescription discount card that will be offered by the county in December. The card, which will be available to all ages, will provide an average savings of 20 percent on prescription purchases, according to Howard County Executive James N. Robey, who unveiled the program at a ceremony during the expo. The discount card is a joint project by Howard County and the National Association of Counties.

Robey said county residents didn't need to be Medicare beneficiaries to join the discount program. He emphasized that the program is not part of Medicare and that seniors still need to enroll in the federal government's new Medicare prescription drug program.

Medical concerns are one reason Buchanan is worried about being prepared for a disaster. The respirator that helps her cope with a respiratory condition does not work when the power goes out. She and her husband had to find a hotel when their power went out during a winter storm a few years ago.

Another issue is "knowing what needs to go into an emergency kit," she said. "And having the discipline to keep it up."

She plans to prepare using checklists and information pamphlets provided by the Red Cross and Community Emergency Response Network, a local organization that helps communities develop neighborhood based response plans.

"Last time we were lucky," she said.

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