Academic journal article International Public Health Journal

Quality of Life and Older Aged Adults

Academic journal article International Public Health Journal

Quality of Life and Older Aged Adults

Article excerpt

Introduction

Aging demographics, quality of life, and family caregiving are dominating topics of concern in public policy and service delivery in many countries. As Brown and Faragher (1) suggested quality of life is an often-used term with varying definitions. Yet there are commonly held tenets across these definitions that suggest a 'good life' constitutes an overall enjoyment of life, active and meaningful engagement with others, access to resources to meet needs, and a perception of control or autonomy over one's life.

Quality of life alongside aging is of substantial concern in the field of intellectual and developmental disability as well as in various other sectors charged with developing policies and providing services to older-aged adults and their families. Worldwide, demographic changes point to aging populations having tremendous implications for policy and practice. Increased longevity, lower fertility rates, changes in the structure of the family, coupled with migration from rural to urban settings for work put strains on all societies to meet the needs of a continually increasing number of older adults. While many developed countries have had a longer period to consider the implications of and respond to the needs of an aging society, other countries will be hard pressed to respond more quickly. Many of these countries will require policy and practice changes aimed at reducing poverty, preventing the onset of chronic health conditions, and addressing the needs of older-aged adults (2) in order to attain a quality of life with age.

This paper focuses on people aging with and without an intellectual disability. While various countries use alternative terms to denote an intellectual disability (e.g. learning disability in the United Kingdom or developmental disability in Canada), this term is used on an international basis to identify the condition. The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities offers a widely accepted definition of intellectual disability (3).

Older-aged adults, with or without an intellectual disability, are a group of people with a wide range of skills and abilities, diverse living circumstances, and varied life experience. Generally, adults with an intellectual disability age similar to people in the general population although there are exceptions (e.g. people with Down syndrome experience earlier signs of aging than would be generally expected). Commonly, all people face significant transitions and life events (e.g. death of family or friends) as they age and age-associated physical changes (e.g. sensory changes, onset of one or more chronic diseases) that likely affect their quality of life (4, 5). Additionally, adults with and without an intellectual disability may live in poverty, or are at risk of living in poverty during old age, that affects health and restricts opportunities (2, 6). A quality of life approach must consider at a basic level the individual's realization of the necessities of life (7). Challenges to maintaining quality of life also arise if any older-aged adult becomes increasingly isolated with a diminishing of their social support networks or dependent on others for personal care and day-to-day activities because of the onset of a chronic health condition. Furthermore, maintaining quality of life is of particular concern in supporting persons with the progressive loss of cognitive and functional abilities associated with Alzheimer's disease or other dementias (8,9). The transfer of knowledge across traditionally separate fields of research and practice (i.e. intellectual disability and aging) can possibly serve to improve an understanding of quality of life and drive change that then better meets the needs of all older-aged adults and their families.

Many older-aged people in the general population live out their lives in community settings, actively engaged with others, and manage changes and transitions with support from family and friends. …

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