In an auditorium of the Takoma Park City Hall last week, an older woman approached an open microphone and spoke of how some elderly residents at her apartment building are intimidated by the resident manager.

Later, a gray-haired man rose and at the same microphone urged senior citizens to fight the rising costs of Medicare premiums.

The speakers were among more than 75 senior citizens, their relatives and civic leaders who last Thursday went to the first "Speakout" in Montgomery County, a "hometown forum" designed specifically to address the needs of the elderly at a location easy for them to reach. The second such forum is scheduled for Nov. 7 in Gaithersburg at the Casey Community Center.

Representatives from senior citizens organizations, among them the Gray Panthers, the National Association of Retired Federal Employees, and resident association representatives from senior citizens' apartment buildings, listened as six county officials described the services offered by their departments, and then fielded questions. Although several senior citizens came forward to the microphone to pose questions, many did not identify themselves and many more opted to pass forward questions written on note cards.

The "hometown forum," sponsored by the Montgomery County Commission on Aging, was taped by cable television and broadcast Sunday night on County Channels 55 and 70.

Moderator Robert Berger, from the Commission on Aging, began the forum by pointing out that Montgomery County has nearly 100,000 senior citizens, the fastest-growing segment of the population.

"Senior citizens are a broad, diverse group," he said, and remarked that "even within one family, like my own, there can be two generations of seniors."

State Sen. Ida Ruben (D-Montgomery) said that the idea for the forum is "something I'd like to encourage. This is an open door for the elderly to express the fears they have." She added that "they are great people and they need help."

Don Wassman, of the Department of Family Resources' Division of Elderly Affairs, said that his office has created a "needs assessment" panel that looks at the problems senior citizens face with home repair, transportation and loneliness.

Irene Karp of the Department of Health discussed plans to implement a cholesterol testing program next year. And Pat Risinger of the TESS (Takoma Park-East Silver Spring) Community Center said the center can offer information on needs as diverse as filling out income tax forms and changing from immigrant to resident status, to where to get rid of an old sofa.

Other panel members were Frank Wade from the Department of Transportation and Bill Sher of the Department of Housing and Community Development.

One of the major problems facing senior citizens is inadequate or costly housing. According to a handout distributed at the forum, 91 percent of the elderly do not receive housing assistance.

For the majority of older people, "Incomes tend to be declining, or at least standing still at a time when housing costs are going up," Sher said. Therefore, the elderly "spend much of their money on rent to the exclusion of other needs."

The issue of isolation among senior citizens and the resulting loneliness was also addressed several times. A major concern is that often the elderly do not know what services are available to them and consequently do without help.

In response to the issue that some senior citizens feel intimidated by their landlords, Sher suggested that an effort could be made to contact the managers of those apartment buildings that house mostly elderly residents and arrange a training program on how to relate to the seniors.

Another questioner asked why traffic lights are not timed for "slow moving seniors" to allow them to cross the street before the light changes. Frank Wade said that if he was approached about a specific intersection, he could speak to the traffic engineer about having the lights slowed down.

"When {motorists} complain about lights being too long, they don't realize that sometimes the time of the lights has been extended for people in wheelchairs who use that intersection," Wade said.

After the forum ended, the panel members mingled with the audience in the lobby, drank apple cider and ate cookies.

Ernestine McCowell, 79, a retired federal employe who lives in Takoma Park, said she came mainly because she is worried about the rising cost of Medicare premiums. She said the forum was "interesting, and I thought people's questions were very open." She added: "It was a very good idea."