When it comes to growing older, there are always changing needs and new challenges to be addressed that come with age.
With so many different facets of life undergoing their own changes, things like health, lifestyle, living situations, and personal and emotional care all impact how seniors live and experience their daily lives in older age. In the case of seniors with Autism, the intersections between Autism and the various changes that come along with growing older can often create unique challenges and experiences. In an attempt to appropriately consider and attend to the specific care needs of seniors with Autism, it is important that loved-ones and caregivers work towards building a well-rounded and conscious understanding of how Autism can impact the lived experiences of seniors, how Autism can interact to create differences or exaggerations in the experience of age-related health concerns, and how best to be behave and conduct oneself in a respectful and compassionate way as decisions are made concerning how best to address care.
What is Autism?
In the briefest of terms, Autism can be characterized as a cognitive condition that can manifest in difficulties with communication and use of language, social interactions and relationships, and the understanding of abstract concepts. Autism exists as a spectrum, and the severity of the symptoms faced by each individual person is unique to their own case and experience. Autism is most frequently diagnosed in early childhood but, for numerous reasons some Autistic individuals can grow older without ever having received an Autism diagnosis.
Autism in Seniors
An overwhelming majority of research related to Autism relates specifically to children in earlier stages of life, and a distinct lack of research exists that explores Autism in seniors and the needs of older adults with Autism. This lack of information has often been attributed to the fact that, as little as 50 years ago, Autism diagnoses were rarely assigned, and individuals who exhibited the symptoms now commonly associated with Autism were often assigned alternate diagnoses and/or placed in institutions. Whether a senior did receive an Autism diagnosis in their youth and has grown older with that diagnosis, or whether someone has aged without ever having received that diagnosis, the symptoms associated with Autism require special attention, particularly when coupled with the array of other challenges that come with growing older.
Caring for Autistic Seniors
Particularly when paired with the new realities, adjustments, and challenges that generally come along with older age, aspects of living with Autism can necessitate special attention and care needs that need to be met to foster a positive quality of life for seniors. While each senior’s needs will be unique to their own experience and circumstances, there are some strategies that are reasonably consistent in their capacity to benefit seniors with Autism.
- Create Calm: Overstimulation can be agitating and distressing for individuals with Autism, so keeping surroundings and situations as calm and controlled as possible can help immensely. Keeping loud sounds, crowds, and other overwhelming elements to a minimum can help promote calm.
- Converse Mindfully: It is important to remain mindful of the realities of Autism when conversing with someone with Autism. Nuances of conversations such as expressions, body language, irony, sarcasm, expressions, or other abstract concepts can be more challenging for individuals with Autism to grasp, so try to keep this in mind. Social connections and communication in general can also be challenging and all of this can be exacerbated by other aspects of older age so always try to remain patient and respectful.
- Keep Consistent: Changing things too often can cause unease, confusion, and stress, so it is often best to stick to established routines and surroundings as best as possible. New faces can also be stressful, so it is often best to stick to an established and consistent care team of a few individuals so that seniors can grow comfortable with the people providing their care.
- Keep Socialization Comfortable: Socialization is important to prevent isolation and foster a sense of connectedness, but this should not be forced at the expense of comfort and calm. Try to keep social situations in comfortable settings without large groups of people or overstimulating surroundings. Remain mindful of what is comfortable, entertaining, and pleasant for the individual when arranging social activities with others.
Most importantly, it is important to always remember that Autism is manifested in different ways for each individual, and that difficulties and challenges can ebb and flow as seniors continue to age. Capacities and incapacities will vary from person to person, and there will likely be some degree of variation from day-to-day, so try always to remain patient, compassionate, and respectful.
The lack of research that exists concerning seniors with Autism, paired with the fact that a significant portion of seniors living with Autism have gone most of their lives without a diagnosis, means that much of the learning concerning how best to support seniors with Autism needs to happen without a great deal of history to use as a reference. The truth is that caring for seniors with Autism can often be difficult, and deciding the best approach for each individual case can require a lot of trial and error, but there are always resources available that loved-ones and caregivers of seniors in Edmonton can consult and draw upon as they seek support and guidance. The overarching goal underpinning each action and decision is always to create the best quality of life possible for seniors as they grow older, and while there may be challenges that come to light, it is always possible to work to assess needs and strengths, consult with professionals, and work through challenges to find what works best and build a set up that creates a comfortable and happy life for seniors as they age.