People with ID positive about growing older

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By Eilish Burke, PhD
Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

This study is part of a larger longitudinal study around aging of people with an intellectual disability (ID) in Ireland, called '
The Intellectual Disability Supplement to the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing', which explores unique issues of people with ID such as their physical and mental health, social networks and support, community participation and living situation, and employment and occupational status. A major impact on how we age is how we perceive ourselves as we age. This affects our attitude and approach to aging and subsequently impacts our health and well-being.

What did you do in your research?
This research examined what people with ID thought about themselves, what they thought aging was for them, and what aging was expected to bring. We asked a number of questions about what aging meant to a randomly selected sample of individuals with ID, enrolled in the Intellectual Disability Supplement to the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (over the age of 40). Some of the questions asked people to explore how they felt; however, only participants who were able to fully understand and independently answer what they felt could answer these questions. A total of 367 individuals with ID, from Ireland, participated in the study.

What did you find out?
People shared some very valuable insights on the subject of growing older. Statements from all 367 participants were analyzed with a software package called 'Textual Analysis'. This software helped identify emerging themes and highlighted links between themes. Overall, people were positive about growing older (57% described their health as very good to excellent), felt they were capable of doing most things in life and looked forward to taking it easy as they grew older. However, participants also acknowledged that with time, loss is inevitable, whether the loss is a personal illness or the loss of family or friends.

What are the take-home messages?
The growing number of people with an ID living into later years is quite a new phenomenon for Service Providers. However, knowing they are prepared to embrace this time in their lives bodes well for successful ageing. This has implications for supporters of people with ID to facilitate meaningful later life transitions and support life planning to counteract the stereotypical views of the frail old. Individuals with ID should be more central to decision-making and policy development. People with ID have the capacity to contribute to building better services and positive service change; we just have to listen.

To learn more about these findings contact Eilish Burke and visit Project Website.

Full Journal Article
Burke, E., McCarron, M., Carroll, R., McGlinchey, E., & McCallion, P. (2014). What it's like to grow older: The aging perceptions of people with an intellectual disability in Ireland. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 52(3), 205-219.