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More Seniors, More Needs

Rising Demand for Services Has County Playing Catch-Up

By Daniele Seiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 24, 2005; Page LZ01

As Loudoun County's population swells, so does the demand for services for the elderly. Senior centers have waiting lists. Outings for active older residents are booked months in advance. Social services agencies are jammed with requests for health referrals and programs.

In response, the Loudoun Senior Interest Network and the Loudoun County Area Agency on Aging plan to expand the Senior Lifestyle Expo, which will be held May 12 in Leesburg. Now in its eighth year, the fair will take place at the larger Leesburg Baptist Church instead of the Cascades Senior Center. It will have nearly 100 vendors -- up from 64 last year -- featuring such services as cruises for seniors and home improvement and lifestyle programs. Because of increased demand for services, growing attendance and feedback from last year, the expo will skip the entertainment it has offered in the past to make room for more information booths.

Seniors await the start of a sold-out bus trip earlier this month to see the cherry blossoms in the District. (Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)

"The event is growing so popular and bigger each year, we had to plan for the future," said Lynette Jacob, the expo's chairwoman. "We totally outgrew the space."

The expo is designed to be Loudoun's primary showcase for senior services. It caters to both caregivers and seniors, those who are active and those whose health prevents them from getting out into the community, said Marilyn Huddell, program manager for the Area Agency on Aging, the county's central point of contact for older people and their families.

"There won't be any selling on the spot, but appointments could be made," Jacob said. "A lot of people don't know what organizations are available, so the whole idea is to put people in touch with people."

Loudoun's older population is growing rapidly. Since 1990, the number of people 55 and older grew more than 100 percent, to roughly 30,000, Huddell said. The largest subgroup consists of those people ages 55 to 65, but the fastest-growing subgroup is the over-85 population.

To serve them, Loudoun has four county-run senior centers, in Leesburg, Cascades, Arcola and Purcellville, although the latter two operate out of two or three rooms in local community centers. The Purcellville center is scheduled to move into the planned $5.3 million Carver Center, on which construction is to begin soon. The center, scheduled to be completed in spring 2006, will also function as a licensed adult day-care center on weekdays and will be available for community use for social and cultural activities on evenings and weekends.

"Our one adult day center for adults with cognitive or physical disability is full with a waiting list, which we hope to alleviate [with the Carver Center]," Huddell said.

The Area Agency on Aging also provides information and assistance on care coordination, home-delivered meals, a retired and senior volunteer program, health insurance counseling, tax assistance and access to the Northern Virginia Long Term Care Ombudsman program, which provides staff training for nursing homes and uses paid and volunteer advocates who meet with nursing home residents and their families to help ensure residents' rights.

The Loudoun Senior Interest Network, which is planning the expo with the help of the agency, hosts public information sessions at the Leesburg Senior Center and supports and organizes an annual Alzheimer's walk.

Still, the need for more basic senior services and information providers, as well as more active programs, continues to grow.

"The trend since 2000 has been an increased demand for home-delivered meals and information and assistance . . . on services available to help the individual stay in their own home, such as in-home care, home-delivered meals, transportation to medical appointments and help filling out forms [such as for insurance or public benefits]," Huddell said. "At the same time, there has also been an increase in demand for social and recreation programs for the more active senior. Senior center programs and senior trips have become increasingly popular."

Mark Humphrey, a county employee who plans bus trips for seniors and often accompanies them, will have a booth at the expo.

"Trips have become more popular," he said. "We book both day trips and five- to eight-day overnight trips, and each year we offer more. This year we will be offering nine week-long [trips]. That's two more than last year, and last year we booked four more than the year before."

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