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Aging: Changes in Bones and Joints

Supporting people with an intellectual disability through the “Normal” Aging Process


Aging Persons with an intellectual disability will:

  • Likely affect the daily rhythms of our homes and the community as a whole.
  • Push us to focus even more on building upon, reinforcing and developing their strengths so that their quality of life is enhanced.
  • Have frequent changes in support and residential location and their health records are often inadequate. Consequently, it may take some time to piece together an accurate picture of the individual’s health status.
  • Challenge us to find creative ways for people to continue to do the things they like to do and to continue to have a role in the home.

Other Considerations:

  • Aging takes place earlier with individuals who are intellectually disabled than the general population.
  • In the 21st century, the life expectancy has increased to 66.1 years of age.
  • Individuals who are intellectually disabled account for 3% of older adults.
  • Health needs change as they individual gets older.

Bones and Joints

Changes in Bones and Joints expected as the person ages:

  • Decreased height due to bone changes.
  • Bones are more brittle – risk of fracture.
  • Changes of absorption of calcium.
  • Pain from previous falls or broken bones.
  • Joints less lubricated – may develop arthritis or osteoarthritis.
  • Unsteady gait.
  • Decrease in muscle mass, strength, tone and joint mobility.

Strategies for supporting people with changes in Bones and Joints:

  • Incorporate light exercise including some weight bearing if possible to daily routines.
  • Take precautions to prevent falls such as de-clutter home and remove area rugs.
  • May need calcium and Vitamin D supplements- ensure a balanced diet.
  • Monitor and treat pain appropriately.
  • Provide pain medication if at possible prior to undertaking an activity to reduce discomfort.
  • Allow more time as the person may need to do things more slowly.
  • Promote use of mobility aids.
  • Use of safeguards to prevent falls.
  • Increase tolerance for physical activity.
  • Restore and improve the ability to ambulate and /or participate in ADLs.
  • Avoid injury from falling or improper use of body mechanics.


  • Not every person will experience all of these changes.
  • Organizations concerned with a particular syndrome or condition may be helpful in providing information helpful for certain individuals.
  • Aging is a spiritual and psychological journey as well as a physical one.

Don’t Forget

  • If we believe that people can continue to grow and to share their gifts as they age we will support them to do so.

Information is compiled from the following:

  • McCracken Intervention Matrix –McCracken -College of Nursing and Health, University of Cincinnati and Lotteman Children, Inc. Covington, KY
  • A Focus on Geriatrics Sharing the Learning St Vincent Hospitals part of Providence Health Care
  • Age Changes and what to do about it Phyllis Kultgen and Peggy Hotz
  • Management Guidelines Development Disability Version 2, 2005.

Original material compiled by Jane Powell of L’Arche Ontario
Adapted with permission from

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