Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) will convene a conference on "vital aging" tomorrow at the University of Maryland's University College in Adelphi to alert senior citizens and people in middle age of the need to plan financially and maintain healthy lifestyles.

"Seniors really do need to take [these matters] seriously and plan for the future," said Jean W. Roesser, Maryland's secretary of aging.

The conference, the first of its kind, is a reflection of the state's desire to prepare for the future. "The impetus is that the aging population is going to experience a veritable explosion with the arrival of baby boomers into the senior population," Roesser said.

By 2020, she said, 20 percent of Maryland's population will be 65 and older. In the 2000 Census, 11.3 percent of the state's population was elderly.

Advocates for seniors applaud the conference, but some are less enthusiastic about Ehrlich's track record on issues that affect the elderly. Donna DeLeno, associate state director for advocacy of the Maryland branch of the AARP, said Ehrlich's administration has not expanded a waiver program that would have allowed low-income elderly people to stay out of nursing facilities and instead receive care in their homes.

She also criticized Ehrlich for vetoing a bill that would have created a managed-care pilot program for poor senior citizens and for cutting the budgets of departments that work with elderly residents.

"We think the governor could be doing better," she said. Even so, AARP Maryland is one of several sponsors of tomorrow's event. "We're real happy about the conference," DeLeno said.

John Folkemer, head of the Office of Planning and Finance in the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the Ehrlich administration has wanted to expand the waiver program but lacks the resources. "That really is a budget issue," he said.

The program serves about 3,100 people.

Folkemer said that the state continues to develop a managed-care program but that Ehrlich could not live with some provisions in the bill he vetoed this year. The Medicaid-related portion of the health department's budget has increased during Ehrlich's tenure, partly the result of increased demand and federal mandates, Folkemer said.

Roesser, the department of aging secretary, conceded that her budget has shrunk 5 percent in each of the past two years. This year Ehrlich has asked state officials to contemplate a 12 percent across-the-board budget cut, but Roesser said nothing is concrete.

"The governor has been supportive of our efforts, particularly as far as home and community-based services are concerned," she said.

The conference is designed for consumers, caregivers and policymakers, with an emphasis on educating people to prepare for the inevitable.

Financial adviser Ric Edelman will talk about money; Eric Dishman, manager of Intel Corp.'s Proactive Health Research lab, will discuss new technologies that might help seniors live independently; and William Thomas will discuss his Eden Alternative concepts for improving long-term care facilities.

Panels of experts will conduct workshops on legal issues, fitness, sexuality and other topics. Coppin State University's Helene Fuld School of Nursing will conduct blood pressure, diabetes and depression testing, and the Prevention of Blindness Society will provide glaucoma testing.

Besides AARP, sponsors include the Senior Beacon newspaper, Capital City Nurses, Good Samaritan Hospital, Carefirst BlueCross BlueShield, GlaxoSmithKline, NeighborCare, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage and the Health Facilities Association of Maryland.

Roesser said last week that seats are no longer available for the conference. But she hoped it would be the first of many such conferences.