Unrelenting rains last Thursday canceled the weekly bike ride for seniors, a 20-mile jaunt from Columbia to Ellicott City and back again. But elsewhere in Howard County, the rain didn't stop the county's growing senior population.

At the Elkridge Senior Center, seniors stretched and strained in a low-impact aerobics class while other played cards in the center's weekly card games

At the Longwood Senior Center in Columbia, a dozen or so women and men were gathered to discuss their exercise habits at the first Korean language "Living Well" program in the state.

And at the East Columbia 50+ Center, one group of seniors danced to a Latin Jam dance class early in the afternoon and, a couple of hours later, another group was lying on mats on the floor, practicing Pilates under the watchful eye of instructor Susan Bisson.


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"Reach, exhale, exhale, come up," said the barefooted Bisson, exhorting her charges.  "Now, twist and reach, exhale, exhale, exhale and come back.

"OK! That was awesome."

On the eve of the 15th annual 50+EXPO, a popular county-organized showcase of services and programs available for seniors, signs of the county's effort to serve Howard's ever-evolving senior population abound.

The expo itself, to be held Friday, Oct. 18, is perhaps the best example.

It began 15 years ago when the county Office on Aging decided that the array of sparsely attended small fairs held every year were too much work for too little return, according to Starr Sowers, Health & Wellness Division manager in the aging office. So the small fairs were scrapped and on Oct. 22, 1999, the county held one large fair at Wilde Lake High School, in Columbia.

That first 50+EXPO was a success by any measure, attracting 3,000-4,000 people and dozens of vendors. But those numbers were just the start. The fair's popularity grew, and so did the fair, spreading out into larger sections of Wilde Lake High.

Last year, the fair attracted about 6,000 members and about 160 vendors. Only the lack of space prevents the fair from being bigger, she said, and there is a waiting list for vendors.

It's not just the numbers that have changed at the expo, Sowers said. The offerings have evolved as well, with more emphasis on health and wellness.

This year, for example, the keynote speaker is Dr. Majid Fotuhi, a Johns Hopkins-trained neurologist whose most recent book is "Boost Your Brain: The New Art and Science Behind Enhanced Brain Performance," and who next month is opening a brain center in Columbia that specializes in teaching aging men and women how to reverse the inevitable memory loss that comes with aging.

The fair also will host workshops on the importance of herbs and spices and boosting your immune system, as well as on identity theft, protecting yourself on the Internet and numerous other subjects.

"It's the demographics of Howard County," Sowers said, asked what makes the expo so popular. "Howard County is baby boomers — that's Howard County. They can come here (to the expo) and get a flu shot, go to seminars, hear the entertainment. This is a one-stop place for all this information."

Rapidly aging population

The demographics are indeed telling.

From 2000 to 2010, the 65-and-older population in Howard County increased by 57 percent — more than three times the overall population increase of 16 percent  — according to a 2012 report from by the county Department of Planning and Zoning that was based on U.S. census data.

And that does not include the 92 percent increase in the 60- to 64-year-old segment of the population, the largest of any segment.

"This trend will no doubt continue as the baby boomers continue to age," the report concluded. It added that Howard "is poised to have one of the most rapidly aging populations" in the state.