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Aging: Changes in the Nervous 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.

Nervous System

Changes in the nervous system expected as the person ages:

  • Sleep /wake cycle changes at 60/70. May need 1or 2 less hours of sleep at night but sleep may not be as restful.
  • People get about 20% less oxygen to the brain which affects balance.

Strategies for supporting people with changes in the nervous system:

  • Discourage long naps and caffeinated products later in the day. Encourage the same patterns and rituals at bedtime.
  • Maintain a set schedule with respect to bedtime time and arising in the morning.


  • 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

One Reply to “Aging: Changes in the Nervous System”

  1. Jenna Martinuzzi says:

    I do think it is hard Young Adults they don’t understand this topic, Example: What is there to worry about?
    Aging: Changes in the Nervous System and Young Adults

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