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Growing Older with A Developmental Disability: Physical and Cognitive Changes And Their Implications

Authors: Alan R. Factor, Ph.D.


This web—based article provides a comprehensive overview of changes that occur as part of the normal aging process, with a focus on how those changes are often altered for people who have developmental disabilities. There is a special emphasis throughout on the aging process and people with Down Syndrome, and those with cerebral palsy since those groups often have additional issues as they grow older. The following excerpts provide an idea about what is included:

The topics/systems covered:
• Vision
• Hearing
• Taste & Smell
• Skin
• Muscles and Bones
• Heart & Blood Vessels
• Lungs
• Digestive System
• Urinary System
• Glandular System
• Sleep Patterns
• Pharmacological Changes
• Behavioral & Cognitive Changes
• Promoting Good Health

The way each section is presented:
1) describes the normal aging process that all individuals experience;
2) Specifies unique characteristics exhibited by older adults with intellectual disability (with and without Down syndrome) and older adults with cerebral palsy, the two most prevalent conditions resulting in a developmental disability
3) Provides suggestions on how family, friends, and staff can support individuals when they experience these changes.

A sampling of the information included:
• Approximately 14% of people with Down syndrome have spinal column instability which may compress the spinal cord, possibly resulting in neck pain, poor posture and gait, loss of upper body strength, abnormal neurological reflexes, and changes in bowel and bladder discharge.
• Because many vision changes occur gradually, individuals may have difficulty recognizing or communicating the problem.

Related suggestions for family/caregivers:
• Encourage independent movement and self-care activities.
• Provide periodic eye exams.

Excerpts and other information taken from article as viewed on 5/23/2010 (depts.washington.edu/aedd/growing_older_dd_Factor.html)

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