IT WOULD BE WRONG to argue that Howard has ignored its elderly population to cater to young families. The county's emphasis on programs for a more youthful audience has been the result of a growing need among that age group, not neglect for those who are older. On the contrary, officials have made great strides in providing services to older Howard countians. The unveiling of a new senior center this week, in Elkridge, will be followed later this month by the opening of the county's 10th such facility, in western Howard. These centers provide a variety of services under one roof that seniors might normally have trouble finding. They include health screenings, cooking lessons, craft classes and exercise programs. Perhaps most important, they serve hot meals daily, a source of sustenance and fellowship that many seniors need badly.
Still, these services are not enough, especially in light of recent growth in the county's senior population. Since 1980, the proportion of elderly residents increased from about 8 percent, or about 9,435 residents, to 9.4 percent, or 20,500 residents this year. By 2010, that population is expected to more than double to about 46,637, or 16 percent of the population.
In Columbia alone, the elderly population has grown from 4.3 percent to an estimated 10 percent today. In a sense, Columbia represents a window on problems facing the county in serving future needs of the elderly. And what Columbia residents are saying is that more is needed in the areas of transportation, health care and housing.
Transportation, in particular, calls for much improvement. Not only has the ColumBus bus service curtailed its schedule over the years, but the Columbia Association wants to divest itself of the responsibility. In addition, many seniors complain that vans run by the Urban Rural Transportation Authority, which provides service to disabled and elderly residents, must be booked days in advance and often prove inconvenient.
Given all this, it is unfortunate to note the retirement of Vivian Reid, who has served 19 years as administrator of the county's Office on Aging. Her energy and commitment have been a true asset. The county must now heed her warning on senior services: Demographic changes demand that Howard plan ahead.