Disabilities pose extra challenges to the aging

In Alaska, nearly one in four adults has experienced a disability. People with disabilities experience more health disparities than people without disabilities, and these disparities are similar to those reported by other minority groups. This is particularly true for the 18,000 Alaskans with intellectual disabilities. This crisis becomes more critical as Alaskans with intellectual disabilities begin experiencing the health-related challenges of an aging population. Research has shown that individuals with intellectual disabilities are living longer and experiencing the challenges of age-related functional decline.

As the population of Alaskans with intellectual disabilities ages, they will begin to encounter functional declines associated with the aging process. These include predictable patterns of physical changes, such as declines in balance, strength, endurance and loss of bone density. Service providers and family members will see sensory loss (hearing and sight) and declines in cognition. This may include increased difficulty in expressive language, multi-tasking, and the ability to focus and pay attention to daily living tasks. Challenges to social interaction with family and peers may become prevalent.

The age-related health conditions can have a significant impact upon an individual’s quality of life and activities of daily living but these difficulties can also be even harder based on the difficulties associated by aging parents, siblings and care providers. Cultural and ethnic diversity can also affect how aging, health promotion and acceptance of age-related change and supports will be supported and addressed.

Much like the non-disabled aging population, adults with intellectual disability may be able to delay the onset of age-related disability through supportive environments and strong caregiver support that promotes active and healthy life choices. Physical activity has been found to play a prominent role in promoting health among adults with intellectual disabilities.

On Oct. 12 and 13, Special Olympics Alaska and the newly formed Disability and Aging Coalition will host the Second Annual Disability and Aging Summit at Special Olympics Sports, Health and Wellness Center in Anchorage, 3200 Mountain View Drive. The goal of the Summit is to bring Alaskans together to discuss national and state trends regarding the aging population to include people with intellectual disabilities.

For more information, please contact Nicolle Egan at nicolle@specialolympicsalaska.org or 907-222-7625, ext. 629.

Nicolle Egan is the Special Olympics Alaska Vice President/COO.

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