By Sandy Alexander
WASHINGTON – The number of Maryland residents aged 65 and older will grow 67 percent by 2020 and the aging trend will be felt in every part of the state, according to the Maryland Office of Planning.
People aged 65 and older will make up 16.4 percent of the population in 2020, compared to 11.2 percent in 2000, part of a nationwide trend of aging baby boomers.
Baltimore City and Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have the largest number of residents over 65 now, and will continue to lead the state in 20 years. But Eastern Shore counties will continue to lead the state in the percentage of the population that is 65 and older.
By 2020, Talbot, Kent and Worcester Counties are each projected to have more then 24 percent of their populations made up of seniors, according to state data.
Already, a number of assisted-living facilities are planned and there is a lot of interest in senior programs on the Upper Shore, said Gary Gunther, director of aging and nutrition services for Upper Shore Aging, which serves Talbot, Kent and Caroline Counties.
Gunther’s nonprofit agency is currently trying to develop plans for the next 10 years, when he said there will be a real need for more services. But his organization is also being cautious, because “it is hard to picture what the world is going to look like in 2010,” he said.
The largest jump in the percentage of senior citizens over the next 20 years will occur in Howard County, where people 65 and older will go from 6.8 percent of the county population in 2000 to 15.5 percent.
Phyllis Madachy, administrator of the Howard County Office on Aging, said her agency is already seeing more requests for services.
“Public services will never keep pace with the growth rate,” Madachy said, so her staff is trying to find creative ways to help people increase their ability to care for themselves. Some solutions include modifying homes to be safer and more convenient and helping people maintain healthy lifestyles to remain independent.
For sheer numbers, no county in the state will beat Montgomery, which expects to see its senior population grow from 93,843 today to an estimated 165,089 by 2020.
Elizabeth Boehner, director of the Montgomery County Area Agency on Aging, said her county is already seeing an influx of seniors seeking to be closer to younger family members who can offer assistance. Down the road, as the county’s large population of middle-aged individuals gets older, she expects to be swamped with senior residents.
The county is already seeing increased development of senior housing, particularly for upper-income individuals, she said. She has also seen a growth in private companies offering home care, help with chores and case management services.
Boehner said she expects that growth to continue, despite the fact that many people approaching retirement age plan to move out of Montgomery County. A 1997 survey indicated that 39 percent of people aged 50 to 54 plan to move away by 2002, she said.
She suspects that many will be heading to the Eastern Shore, which Gunther agreed is a popular retirement area.
The Western Maryland counties of Allegany, Garrett and Washington will remain among the 10 counties with the greatest percentage of their populations aged 65 and older through 2020, according to the state data. And the booming Southern Maryland counties of Charles and Calvert are expected to see growth of over 130 percent in the senior population.
Maryland’s older population is definitely growing, said Jim Macgill, deputy secretary of Maryland’s Department of Aging, but he is optimistic about the situation.
“Certainly the issues ahead of us are challenging, but we can rise to the occasion,” he said.