Expo attracts boomers

Health fair has a youthful appearance

October 21, 2007|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,Sun reporter

Denise Cabral remembers going to the county's first senior health expo with her mother nine years ago.

Since then, Cabral has been to the health fair every year -- and now that she brings her grandchildren, she is glad that the expo has added activities for kids.

The 50+ Expo, a free annual health event hosted by the Howard County Office on Aging and the Department of Citizen Services, was attended by more than 5,000 people at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia on Friday, organizers said.

Shuttle buses from Columbia Town Center brought many of the attendees, who had access to more than 140 exhibits. Activities included an Alternative Care Fair, lectures on healthy aging, free hearing and body-fat tests and health screenings. There also was entertainment.

Organizers said although they typically target older county residents for the expo, one of their goals this year was to attract anyone who interacts with senior citizens, including grandchildren and caregivers. They also hoped to include more activities for people in their 50s, rather than just for the older county residents.

"We want people in their 50s and 60s to be proactive in planning about their future," said Shelly Garten, a spokeswoman for the county's Office on Aging.

The organizers have a big population to work with -- in 2006, about 20 percent of Howard County residents were 55 or older, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Cabral, 55, of Glenelg, said she has noticed in recent years that the expo has offered more for residents closer to her age, including activities for children who stay with their grandparents on days off from school.

There was no school in Howard County on Friday, which was a reason organizers picked that date for the expo.

"It's nice to see things like this that are more toward the 50- and 60-year-old crowd," Cabral said. "I think they're realizing there are more and more baby boomers watching their grandchildren."

Cabral attended a performance by Barry Louis Polisar -- a children's entertainer who sang, played the guitar and read poems -- with her two grandchildren. This was the first year the expo has featured a children's performer, organizers said. Cabral said she noticed other reasons to bring the kids, including a station that featured a clown twisting balloons into animal shapes.

"There's a different era coming in," she said.

One exhibitor said his organization sets up a table at the expo annually.

"We come here every year to educate the public and attract volunteers," said Jim McDiarmid, a board member for FIRN, a group that offers tutoring for foreign-born county residents.

Fidos for Freedom, another nonprofit organization, brings information about its programs, including one that trains dogs to help hearing- and mobility-impaired people.

"People love to stop and pet the dogs," said Sam Connelly, who works with the organization. She brought her own pet, a golden retriever named Salsa, whom she often takes on visits to retirement homes.

The event also offered yoga and tap-dancing demonstrations.

The expo "is very, very important to the senior citizens of the county," said Catherine Frattali of Ellicott City, who participated in a mini-tap-dancing lesson. She attended the expo with her husband Frank, whose 83rd birthday fell on the same day as the fair.

"I think the atmosphere is wonderful," Catherine Frattali said. "You can get any information you want here."

But perhaps the expo's most popular features were the flu and pneumonia inoculations made available from the Howard County Department of Health. More than 1,000 people got flu vaccine this year, organizers said.

Cabral said the flu shot is a big reason she goes to the expo every year. "You have to get it by the end of October," she said.

tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

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