Susan Carter is the sort of person who, as she puts it, "always felt free to come and go" in her Silver Springs neighborhood near the District of Columbia line.

But no longer.Because she is worried about crime, says the 68-year-old retired legal secretary, "I don't walk around by myself anymore. I used to do that sort of thing a lot - and I miss it."

Her fear - and its effect upon her behavior - are known all too well by many elderly people in Silver Spring. According to a new study that the Montgomery County Police Department plans to release this week, nearly 85 percent of the elderly in Silver Spring have a fear of crime, a fear that often restricts their activities and increases their sense of isolation.

And there is apparent justification for their fear.The study shows that nearly one-fourth of the elderly persons surveyed were the victim of at least one crime or attempted crime in the past five years, with larceny, vandalism, robbery, and burglary the common offenses.

The study, funded by the U.S. Law Enforcement Assistance Administration and state and county agencies, is part of a pilot project aimed at reducing crime and the fear of crime among the elderly. Silver Spring was chosen as the focus of the program because its general crime rate is high for Montgomery County, and because nearly 15,000 people aged 60 and older - more than 20 percent of the country's elderly - live within its boundaries. Based on interviews with 178 elderly Silver Spring residents, the study reveals that:

There is no "typical" elderly victim of crime, except that victims are more likely to live in the area's older, more urbanized section adjoining the District. Contrary to popular belief, elderly women are no more likely to be victims of crime than elderly men, and living alone does not increase an elderly person's chances of being victimized.

"This lack of a victimazation pattern," says the study, "supports the contention that anyone could be a victim' and underscores the necessity of precautionary measures for all the elderly."

Women, nonwhites, the less educated, those living alone, and those living in the older parts of Silver Spring, are more fearful of crime than others. Of nearly 85 percent of the elderly who fear crime, 12 percent are described as "very fearful" and 26 percent as "moderately" or "highly" fearful.

About one-fourth of the elderly often restrict their activities because of fear of crime.

"Its most significant effect is to keep the elderly in their homes at night, unless they can travel by car to their destination," the reports notes.

Her husband, who owned a drug

[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] Many "simply refuse to go out at night. They forego theaters, social activities, and events at friend's houses if there occur at night," This in turn, leads to "increasing isolation and diminished community involvement."

Despite their general fear, most elderly persons think they are safer in their own neighborhood than they really are. They do not take safety measures such as using dead-bolt locks, until after they have suffered a crime. They look primarily to social solutions, notably more police protection and stricter punishment for criminals.

Nora Anderson, 72, lives in a highrise apartment building near the District line in Silver Spring and under-survey responded the way they did.

"I would never fo out of this door unless my son (who lives elsewhere in the county) is righr there," she said the other day, pointing vigarously to the outside door.

She has a close call with an attempted purse-snatcher some time ago, and since then has been "a lot more careful." As she puts it, "When you're living on Social Security, you can't afford to have your purse snatched."

Clara and Harry Klayman, both in their 70s, recently moved from New York to the Blan Plaza in Silver Spring to be near their married son. "People call New York a jungle," said Mrs. Klayman. "But it's not better here.

"I'd like to go down into the city at night - even downtown Silver Spring, but I wouldn't go if you paid me a thousand dollars. I wouldn't even was robbed five times, disagreed. "It's gold here compared to New York," he said. "I feel much safer here. You [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]