Exploring the Research on Aging with Disabilities for Older Americans Month

May is Older Americans Month, a celebration led by the Administration for Community Living. The theme for 2020 is “Make Your Mark,” encouraging and celebrating the countless contributions that older adults make to our communities every day. Within the community of older Americans are those aging with disabilities. Thanks to advances in medical and rehabilitative care, people with disabilities are living longer, some well into their senior years. These older adults are also staying active and engaged, even as they experience some of the same changes in health, employment, and levels of participation as their peers without disabilities.

The NIDILRR grantee community has examined issues of aging with disability for more than 30 years. Early Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers (RRTCs) focused on aging with physical disabilities and aging with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Other projects and centers have focused on women aging with disabilities, aging with spinal cord injuries, and assistive technology for older persons with disabilities, among many other topics.

Here’s a look at some of the currently funded projects that are conducting research and development to support the continued health, employment, and participation of people aging with disabilities. Click on the project titles to visit their websites.

Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technologies to Support Aging-in-Place for People with Long-Term Disabilities (TechSAge RERC II).

TechSAge RERC II advances knowledge and accelerates the development, modification, and testing of technology-based interventions and strategies for use in the home and community to promote aging-in-place and reduce secondary conditions among people with long-term disabilities. Current studies include needs assessment and technology use, telewellness, digital home assistants, and development of several technology solutions such as smart bathrooms and tools for connected home technologies.

Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Promoting Healthy Aging for People with Long-Term Physical Disabilities.

The overarching goal of the Investigating Disability factors and promoting Environmental Access for Healthy Living RRTC (IDEAL RRTC) is to promote the healthy aging of adults with long-term physical impairments and disabilities. This is achieved by identifying factors at the intersection of the person and environment that impede or support positive health and function outcomes and creating solutions that improve the fit between the two. Current studies include examining the experience of aging with disability and developing a model integrated health clinic.

Building Capacity to Improve Community Participation for People Aging with Long-Term Disability Through Evidence-Based Strategies.

This project identifies and addresses barriers to successful community participation for people aging with long-term physical disability. People in this group are living longer and experiencing the challenges of aging, including the onset of secondary and age-related chronic health conditions, leaving them at high risk of diminished functional abilities and compromised participation. Current studies include developing a community-based research network of long-term service and support providers, studying changes in community participation, and adapting and studying an evidence-based program focused on self-management and removing environmental barriers to participation.

Aging and Spinal Cord Injury: A 45-Year Longitudinal Study.

Many individuals now live to aging milestones after the onset of spinal cord injury (SCI). Recent longitudinal research suggests a dramatic increase in physician visits and hospitalizations among those reaching 40+ years post-injury, with some declines in life satisfaction and future expectations. The goal of this project is to better understand these changes to support individuals that face aging-related challenges. 

Our Research In Focus Series has highlighted several studies on aging and disability from these and other NIDILRR-funded projects:

Explore more from the NIDILRR community:

NARIC’s information and resource specialists are available to help you explore the research in aging with disabilities or to find resources in your community to help you celebrate Older Americans Month. Call, email, or chat with us today?

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