Communities prepare for booming seniors -- Gazette.Net







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Shirley Mallory takes yoga classes every Monday and Wednesday, sings in a choir, walks to her local gym and recently learned to ballroom dance. She volunteers at Church of the Redeemer and the Wilson Health Care Center and still finds time for high-intensity interval training classes and family get-togethers.

Mallory, 68, lives at Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg, one of the county’s largest communities for seniors. Mallory said her neighbors, who tend to be older than her, are also active. A few friends of hers who are more than 90 years old attend her weekly yoga class. One paints watercolors and another plays piano.

“I tell them, ‘I want to be like you when I grow up!’” she said.

Mallory and her neighbors are part of a growing group of Montgomery County residents age 60 and up. According to county data, the senior population will double by 2030.

As of 2010 census numbers, there were about 173,000 seniors in the county’s 970,000 residents (the county hit one million residents in 2012). The county predicts over 215,000 residents will live here by 2030.

LeisureWorld, a senior community in Silver Spring for residents age 55 and up, houses about 8,000 people. LeisureWorld General Manager Kevin B. Flannery said he expects the community’s population to stay relatively constant in the next few years, though LeisureWorld’s rental properties may be in higher demand.

The growing community has necessitated additions to LeisureWorld facilities. Flannery said he has seen more participation in the community’s self-governed fitness programs.

“We’re contemplating putting an addition on the building to accommodate that growth,” he said. They are also considering adding space to their food-service operations, with a facility enhancement plan on the way.

“Although there might be some pressure [from the community’s needs], we’re in a pretty good position to update,” he said.

At the Ingleside community in King Farm in Rockville, staff are accepting housing deposits for the waiting list. The senior-oriented retirement community has been open since 2009.

It takes a village

Leslie Marks, who works with the county government on aging issues, said most seniors don’t want to move into assisted living communities or senior complexes — they want to live at home.

Marks wrote the county book on senior “villages,” or grassroots-led communities of existing neighbors who support one another. They provide dinners if someone is sick, have social events and exercise together.

“That’s a major thing that we have to start thinking about,” Marks said. “How do we keep seniors safe at home, where they want to be?”

Marks’ 2011 “Village Blueprint,” available in the county’s public libraries, provides a step-by-step guide for seniors who want to start their own local support community. There are 15 villages in the county that have either been established or are on their way, Marks said. They include communities in Silver Spring, Chevy Chase, Olney, Takoma Park and Potomac. The first Montgomery County senior village, Burning Tree, started in 2010 around Burning Tree Elementary School in Bethesda. The community helps coordinate volunteer opportunities and takes requests for grocery runs and trips to doctor’s appointments.

Since the highest density of seniors is downcounty, Marks said, more villages are concentrated in that area. But upcounty, where neighbors are spread out over more land, it may be more difficult to start or maintain a village.

Marks said the communities are mainly raised through grassroots efforts, but the county is considering hiring a physician to help provide health services at established senior villages.

“The county recognizes that there needs to be transportation and activities, and a sense of creating a community,” Marks said.

With a growing senior population, Marks said the county only needs to coordinate its health services, transportation and public facilities for seniors to be adequately served.

“If we could get an entity to harness those services ... I think we could go a long way down the road,” she said.

Montgomery County’s Commission on Aging made recommendations for the fiscal year 2014 budget that included funding for a senior villages coordinator and a senior transportation coordinator to bring together public transit and private resources.