What the numbers alone don’t tell us is that with this significant increase in life span come enormous challenges. For instance …..
Developmentally disabled adults are increasingly outliving their parents — the people who have historically functioned as their primary caregivers. This has produced a demand for residential and other options geared specifically to the needs of the aging disabled. It has also sparked even higher costs for health care, beyond increases associated with neurotypical aging populations.
No different from neurotypical aging individuals, older disabled men and women suffer reductions in functional vision, hearing and/or balance; and they similarly require increased medical care and medications as they age — but to a greater level.
The need for disabled senior services is fast becoming acute. Economic constraints notwithstanding, we must devise and implement systems of care management and medical treatment to assist the disabled individual with life’s transitions related to aging.
Gloria George loves to talk about the things she loves. She loves to make coffee first thing every morning for her many friends at DEC’s Norristown Center. Having lots of friends, she’ll tell you, makes her feel loved … and very, very happy. Gloria loves walking more than a mile each day to and from her residence and the center on E. Airy Street. In her upper 80s, Gloria George is the oldest individual currently receiving services year-round from DEC.
Gloria loves the instruction she regularly receives in Tai Chi, part of the tailored therapeutic regimen constructed for her by DEC staff. And the octogenarian loves to work. Does she ever! “Makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something,” she explains. “And I love to make money.”
Some of the money she earns is tithed to Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, an intercultural, multilingual, urban church. Religion is a very important element of Gloria’s life; says it gives her hope and gets her going each morning. Some of her paycheck gets donated to charities that enable all people with disabilities or special needs to enjoy equal opportunities to live, learn, work and play in their communities.
Gloria loves the Eagles, though she never expected to live long enough to see her beloved Birds triumph in the Super Bowl. She loves her sister, Edna, who lives in Southern California; her brother, Skip, who resides across state in Pittsburgh; and treasures the memories of her late mother and father. Love of family, she’ll tell you, gives her strength.
Perhaps more than anything, Gloria loves DEC, which she credits for “helping me to live such a long and meaningful life,” and, in particular, Millie Hill, a DEC direct service professional for the past 32 years, who Gloria describes as “wonderful in every way.”
Keeping disabled seniors fit, safe and healthy requires Millie and her colleagues at all five DEC centers to be more hands-on with people who are less independent, less mobile and require more assistance. Now staff long accustomed to working with vibrant men and women in their 20s, 30s and 40s must also deal with dementia, low energy and other age-related issues exhibited by individuals in their 60s, 70s and 80s. Millie has learned to adjust to each individual’s personality.
“All things are possible,” Millie insists. “It’s hard to see people you love walk slower, talk slower and have less stamina; but we make sure they always feel special, are treated with dignity and are encouraged to do as much as they can on their own. We adjust expectations and pacing, and re-think what’s best for each individual at this stage of life. Love conquers everything.”