Disability and Aging: Addressing Unique Needs & Challenges

A blind man reads braille.

As conversations around aging grow in importance, we believe it’s key to consider how disabilities and aging can overlap. Below, we dive into how disability affects this age group – and what you can do to manage your or your loved one’s needs.

 

How Does Aging Affect Disability(ies)?

Anyone can have a disability, and a disability can occur at any point during a person’s lifetime. However, it is true that disabilities are more common among adults 65 years of age and older. Approximately 2 in 5 adults in this age group live with a disability. 

For adults 65 years of age or older, common types of disabilities include the following:

  • Mobility 
  • Cognition
  • Independent living
  • Hearing
  • Vision
  • Self-care

So, why are disability rates so high among older adults? For one thing, the risk of developing health conditions increases as we age. Older bodies also tend to experience more severe side effects and complications from health concerns. 

In other words, the older we get, the more likely we are to experience disability-causing conditions. But aging into disability isn’t the only scenario to consider. Aging can also exacerbate pre-existing disabilities. 

It’s normal for our organs, bones, joints, and muscles to lose some of their strength over time. But when a disability is already present, these natural changes can prove to be significant.

Understanding Age-Related Disabilities

Some forms of disability can be closely linked to the changes that come with aging. Even if aging itself isn’t their sole cause, it can worsen existing health needs that do lead to disability.

For instance, one study found that some common causes of disability among older adults include:

  • Long-term arthritis
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Heart problems
  • Vision problems
  • Foot problems

As people age, they’re more likely to experience several health conditions at once. When illnesses overlap, the chance of developing one or more disabilities goes up. Some common conditions experienced by older adults include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Cataracts and refractive errors
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Chronic back and neck pain
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Diabetes
  • Dementia
  • Depression

Overall, disability and aging often go hand-in-hand. It may not be entirely possible to avoid aging with a disability of some kind, but that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare.

Essential Tips for Aging Adults with Disabilities

Whether you have a disability already or believe you may develop one down the road, you can take steps to protect your independence.

Stay Active, Physically & Mentally

Use it or lose it – that’s your body’s mantra. If you don’t actively use muscles, bones, and even your brain, some of their functionality can begin to fade. That’s why it’s so important to keep your mind and body moving as you age. 

Plus, staying active is helpful even if you already have a disability; it improves mental health, boosts energy levels, and gives you something to look forward to each day.

Be Proactive About Health

Don’t wait until problems emerge to take care of your health. In most cases, preventing health conditions is a lot easier than treating them. This goes beyond taking care of your body, too; mental health and disabilities can overlap. 

Create a Plan

Think about financial and legal planning you might want to take care of now. 

Maybe you’d like to sell your house and move in with your family. Or, perhaps you know you’ll need financial support to afford the services you need to manage your disability.

 Save yourself stress down the line by thinking ahead as much as possible.

Adapt Your Space

If you haven’t already done so, think about changes you can make to your home or residence to make it more accessible. This might mean installing a stair lift, for instance, or a wheelchair-accessible shower. Even if you don’t know what changes you might face in the future, it’s a good idea to get started early. 

Build a Support Network

Connecting with others and overcoming social challenges can be especially difficult as we age. But aging with a disability is often even more challenging when we’re alone. 

Create a support system you can rely on, whether it’s made of friends, family, or professionals like the NeuroNav team. 

Having someone to turn to when you need help makes it a lot easier to actually ask for it. Plus, you deserve a space to share your experiences and find comfort in others. 

At NeuroNav, we’re dedicated to helping people and families with disabilities navigate topics like aging, healthcare, and more. Be sure to explore our other resources for more insight that can help you approach disability and aging with confidence.

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