Most of us have heard of the aging baby boomers, and have seen the rising population curve that shows how many of us will turn 65 and older over the next few decades. The word on the street is that 10,000 Americans will turn 65 every day. The image raises questions about security in the older years, caregiving for loved ones that are elderly, health care, employment, housing, transportation, acquired disability due to aging, the limited direct care workforce available to provide quality care, and the risks associated with each of these issues down the line. For The Arc and those we represent, the aging issue brings about another unique dimension: aging people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Recently I drove through the heartland of America on a few less-traveled roads. Small towns drifted past my view. In those towns lived a community of people of all ages, some of them I’m guessing were older, even elderly. Statistics insist that people with I/DD represent up to 4% of the total US population. So I do the math, and figure that even small towns have the likelihood of having someone in their community with I/DD of any age.
People with I/DD are also part of the baby boom scenario, in that they, too are growing older. This group of older individuals with I/DD is virtually invisible to the general population. Many have lived with their even older parents, often tucked away from the larger society. Research shows that many people with I/DD have significant health disparities – obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and dementia to name a few- some of which unfortunately result in an unnecessarily shorter life span. The Centers for Disease Control is attending to this issue as a priority, as is The Arc with its new CDC-funded HealthMeet initiative to promote health for people with I/DD.
This leads me to some questions: what do people with I/DD do when their own elderly parents leave the home for assisted care, or die? What happens to the person with I/DD if families don’t have a future transition plan in place? What if they don’t have other family members or a local service provider willing to take over support responsibilities? How is the response system prepared to address a traumatic transition during an emotionally traumatic time, and in a way that accommodates and supports the person with I/DD? How is the medical profession prepared to address age-related disabilities in the context of someone with I/DD? How is The Arc working with families and communities to respond to these unique issues?
Knowing that the Chapters of The Arc are the foundation of innovative and effective solutions, I invite you to send me a description of what your Chapter is doing in aging services for people with I/DD. Send me stories of how your program has changed the life of someone that is older for the better, or if you are a family member of or an older person that identifies as having an intellectual or developmental disability that has experienced a positive outcome from a local Chapter, send me your story. You can write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.