People with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities* who are 55 years of age or older have a right to the same opportunities to enjoy full lives as other older people. They are entitled to full access to community supports, including support from those agencies that serve all older people.
For the first time in history, Americans living in the 21st century will experience millions of people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities living into their “senior” years. These Americans with disabilities want to enjoy their older years in the same manner as other people their age. Unfortunately, the discrimination that older people often experience in accessing community activities, housing, services, and supports and in enjoying all aspects of community life as they age, is experienced to a much greater degree by people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities as they age.
Like other older Americans, people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities may require greater levels of support to allow them to live full, active and healthy lives in their communities as independently and as long as possible. Unfortunately, many older people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities lack basic housing supports, as well as the specialized services needed to enable them to live more independently. They also lack the access to the health care services they need as they grow older, particularly access to preventative services and to ongoing habilitation and rehabilitation services.
Additionally, family members of people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities often lack information about and access to resources to enable them to support the person who is growing older. Many people with disabilities see no future for themselves as they grow older, other than one inside the walls of a nursing home or other institutional setting.
These problems are compounded by the fact that many community-based services for senior citizens are not prepared to meet the special needs of older adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. Likewise, many disability-based organizations have historically not planned for the challenges faced by older people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities and are not prepared to address these unique needs, including providing education and training on mitigating the risk of elder abuse and neglect for a potentially more vulnerable population of older people. In addition, a disconcerting trend is occurring. More and more aging individuals with disabilities are becoming caregivers for their even older parents.
As they age, people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities must have every opportunity to be recognized as respected members of the community. Community services and supports that are geared to older community members must accommodate the supports needed by those who have also experienced lifelong disabilities. People with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities who are aging should:
Board of Directors, AAIDD
August 18, 2008
Board of Directors, The Arc of the United States
August 4, 2008
Congress of Delegates, The Arc of the United States
November 8, 2008
* “People with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities” refers to those defined by AAIDD classification and DSM IV. In everyday language they are frequently referred to as people with cognitive, intellectual and/or developmental disabilities although the professional and legal definitions of those terms both include others and exclude some defined by DSM IV.