ConnectABILITY Homepage

Aging: Changes in the Cardiovascular System

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.

Cardiovascular System

Changes in the cardiovascular system expected as the person ages:

  • Heart works harder to maintain oxygen levels in the body.
  • Cholesterol may accumulate on the walls of the arteries.
  • Decreased ability to replace fluids lost while breathing.
  • Diminished cardiac reserve.

Strategies for supporting people with changes in the cardiovascular system:

  • People may become fatigued – may need more rest.
  • Blood pressure monitored as recommended by healthcare professionals.
  • Reposition person frequently, if unable to move on their own, so fluids don’t build up. Physiotherapy may be needed.
  • Assure adequate fluid intake and seek medical help quickly if you think the person may be dehydrated.
  • Encourage client to raise feet or to rest on pillows to decrease edema.
  • Sign of stroke and heart attack may not be as noticeable as the general population. Some of the signs may be rapid change of behaviour, such as sudden weakness or unable to stand.
  • Exercise regularly, participating in at least 20 minutes ( up to 40 minutes) of vigorous exercise 4-5 times a week.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Maintain ideal weight.
  • Eat a diet low in total fat, saturated fats, cholesterol and high in fibber.


  • 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

Leave a Reply