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As medical care gets better and better, older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are living longer and healthier lives. Experts predict that the number of adults over the age of 60 with IDD will almost double from 2000 to 2030.

The longer lifespan is great for all seniors, but it does require that caretakers be aware of how to handle the unique needs of aging adults with IDD.

Older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities may face difficulties that typical seniors don’t experience. If you take care of an older adult with IDD, you should be aware of the possible physical and mental health challenges they may encounter as well as how you can help them cope.

Challenges for Older Adults With IDD

Individuals with mental disabilities have access to funding that allows them to participate in the community and maintain their quality of life. However, as people with mental disabilities age, their resources often become more scarce. Fewer opportunities to be involved with the community combined with the typical social isolation that older adults face can cause loneliness, depression, anger, and other emotional problems.

Coping with intellectual and developmental disabilities can also become harder as the individual’s family members age alongside them. More than 75 percent of adults with IDD live with their family, and more than 25 percent of family caretakers are over 60 years old. If parents, siblings, or other family members start to experience their own age-related health problems, they may not be able to provide as much care for their loved one. Although adults with mental disabilities can receive care from home health nurses, residential programs, or other caretakers, the decrease in family support and connection can be tough.

People with mental disabilities have a significantly higher risk of mental illness than the general population, which may be due in part to lack of communication, social interaction, and community involvement. Mental health disorders can easily go overlooked both in people with developmental disabilities and in older adults. People who fall into both of these categories are at an especially high risk of undiagnosed and untreated mental illnesses.

Common Medical Needs

All aging adults have an increased risk of medical problems, but these health issues are especially common in adults with developmental disabilities. According to the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services, the average onset of age-related changes is around 65 to 70 years, but adults with IDD can experience age-related changes at 45 to 55 years. There are several reasons that adults with mental disabilities tend to have more health issues:

• Some developmental disabilities are linked to chronic health conditions.
• Adults with developmental disabilities are more likely to be sedentary and have poor nutritional habits.
• Communication limitations make it difficult for adults with developmental disabilities to express when they feel sick.
• Some healthcare providers aren’t educated on treating patients with IDD.

All of these factors can contribute to a number of different health problems for adults with developmental disabilities. This can make it even harder for seniors to go out in the community, be social, and maintain their mental health and quality of life. Here are some of the most common medical concerns:

• Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
• Diabetes
• Osteoporosis
• Hearing loss
• Cataracts
• Glaucoma

Care and Support for Seniors With Developmental Disabilities

Older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities face unique challenges, and it’s important for caretakers to be supportive and empathetic. One of the best things you can do for an elderly family member with IDD is let them advocate for themselves whenever possible. This can include everyday decisions like what they wear, what they eat, and where they go. If they’re able to participate in conversations about their medical care, they should be involved in those decisions as well.

Adults with mental disabilities should also have as many opportunities as possible for social interaction. Spending time with friends, family, and community members can be great for improving their mental health and maintaining their cognitive skills.

If your loved one is showing signs of mental health problems, therapy can be a helpful experience. Many people falsely believe that adults with mental health disabilities can’t receive talk therapy because of the limits to their language and communication. However, research shows that therapy can help patients with IDD manage their mental health and learn coping skills. Here are some of the most common goals therapists work toward with patients who have IDD:

• Get in touch with feelings
• Find healthy outlets for emotional expression
• Overcome self-limiting beliefs
• Develop empathy
• Cope with loss or trauma

Therapy for adults with mental disabilities may not always look the same as therapy for typical patients. People with IDD tend to do better with concrete language and specific directions. The therapist may have to repeat new ideas a few times or use a variety of techniques to communicate clearly with the patient. Therefore, it’s important to work with a therapist who has experience treating patients with developmental disabilities. A counselor who specializes in IDD will understand the common challenges that affect older adults with disabilities and will know how to connect and communicate with their patients.

Seniors with mental disabilities don’t have to deal with their struggles on their own. If you have an aging loved one with IDD, contact Blue Moon Senior Counseling today to learn more about our services.

Contact Us Today or Call (630) 896-7160