May is Older Americans Month and the theme for this year is Aging My Way – which explores the many ways that older adults with and without disabilities can continue to live independently and participate in their communities. As people with disabilities grow older, they may develop age-related disabilities, such as vision or hearing loss or dementia, among others – just as their peers without disabilities may also age into disabilities. There are many interventions, assistive technologies, services, and supports that can help older adults with and without disabilities age in place and continue to participate in their communities.
NIDILRR supports people with disabilities to age in place by funding projects that investigate and develop assistive technologies, interventions, services, supports, and more. Some of these projects focus on understanding disability across the lifespan, the impact of aging on disability, and key factors in healthy aging with disabilities. Below are just some of the NIDILRR-funded projects that highlight the diverse research supporting people with disabilities as they age in place:
- The Home Mod Connection: Connecting Professionals with Older Adults with Disabilities to Support Community Living conducts the Home Mod Connection Project with the mission to maximize at-risk older adults’ engagement in their communities by improving the supportiveness of their home environments. The goal is to create a remote home assessment to increase access to home modifications for older adults with disabilities living in rural communities that affect one or more major life activities. Their website includes a guide to home modifications (PDF) and a booklet on home adaptations for a livable environment (PDF).
- The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Technologies to Support Aging-in-Place for People with Long-Term Disabilities (TechSAge RERC) 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. This RERC conducts research, development, and training activities that are dedicated to understanding the needs of, and developing supportive technologies for, people aging with long-term disabilities. The TechSAge RERC has a collection of resources that include technologies, tools, publications, videos, and more to assist older adults, their families, and service providers learn more about aging in place.
- The Accommodation Expert Support System for Aging Well (ACCESS for Aging Well) is developing and evaluating the efficacy of ACCESS for Aging Well, an online accommodation assessment system that service providers can use while conducting community living evaluations with older adults and their families. The system considers all personal, environmental, and contextual factors to make recommendations and prioritize suggestions on accommodation effectiveness.
- The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Promoting Healthy Aging for People with Long-Term Physical Disabilities (IDEAL RRTC) promotes the healthy aging of adults with long-term physical disabilities 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. The IDEAL RRTC provides training and education for people aging with physical disabilities, their families, and service providers through webinars and conferences, research and policy briefs, the spinal cord injury e-learning course, and more.
- Understanding and Promoting Longevity After Spinal Cord Injury: A Mixed Methods Study of Participation, Employment, and Quality of Life promotes longevity after spinal cord injury (SCI) through exploration and discovery of how nonmedical factors impact long-term survival. The project addresses the seeming contradiction that mortality rates over the last three or four decades have not improved in epidemiologic studies, while aging research indicates an increasing number of people reaching aging milestones of 40, 50, or more years post-injury.
- Building Capacity to Improve Community Participation for People Aging with Long-Term Disability Through Evidence-Based Strategies identifies and addresses barriers to successful community participation for people aging with long-term physical disability. Goals and activities of this project include: (1) developing a community-based research network, including long-term supportive services, to serve as a platform for continued intervention development and refinement and for the future implementation and dissemination of evidence-based practices; (2) identifying the barriers and supports to community participation for people aging with long-term physical disabilities to inform service delivery through an ongoing cohort survey; (3) translating and adapting an existing evidence-based intervention to enhance community participation for individuals aging with long-term disabilities; and (4) evaluating the feasibility, fidelity, and preliminary efficacy of the adapted intervention for the new target population.
- Explore more current and completed research on aging and disability in the NIDILRR Program Database.
Research from the NIDILRR community has explored many facets of aging in place. NARIC’s Research In Focus series has highlighted many of their studies exploring topics such as aging and retiring for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, social supports, psychosocial challenges, and more. Below are just a few examples:
- The article, People Aging with Spinal Cord Injuries and Their Caregivers Share Experiences with Aging, discusses a study from researchers at the Regional Spinal Cord Injury Center of the Delaware Valley who wanted to find out what health- related changes people with SCI experiences as they got older, what health services they used, and what supports they received and the challenges they encountered in their lives. The researchers found that that the responses of the participants with SCI and the caregivers fell into four general themes: Health literacy, health services, health changes with aging, and environment. The researchers noted that improving health literacy may help empower people aging with SCI to optimize their own health and give caregivers the information they need to provide adequate support and care.
- The article, Organizatoional Partnerships May Improve Access to Independent Living Services for People with Disabilities, discusses a study from the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center for Place-Based Solutions for Rural Community Living, Health, and Employment (RTC: Rural) that looked at how travel distance affected access to centers for independent living (CILs) and their services and how many people might be impacted by a lack of services. The study also looked at whether access to other organizations in the community might improve access to the services of, and offer opportunities for partnerships with, CILs. Findings from this study suggest that having an Area Agency on Aging (AAA) in a rural area may improve access to CIL services, which indicates that a cross-organization collaboration between CILs and AAAs may be beneficial for increasing access to services for people aging with disabilities.
Interested in learning more about making your home fit your needs as you age with and into disability? NARIC’s FAQ on resources and information for adapting your home is a great place to start. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) at the National Institutes of Health provides information, research, resources and more about aging, including resources in Spanish. NIA’s weekly e-alerts provide a wealth of information in English and Spanish on healthy aging, Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, caregiving tips and resources, and more.
Are you looking for information and resources in your area to help you age in place? Contact NARIC’s information specialists via chat, telephone, or email to get the information that you need.