skip navigation

Transitions in Aging

Aging with Developmental Disabilities


A developmental disability is a chronic disability that

  • Originates before the age of 22
  • Is attributable to a cognitive and/or physical impairment
  • Has a lifelong impact on functioning

People with developmental disabilities now live longer

  • In the 1930s: The mean age of death was 19 years
  • In the 1970s: The mean age of death was 60 years
  • Now: The mean age of death is approximately 5 years shorter than the general population

NEXT: Concept of Age

Notes and References

A developmental disability often refers to a lifelong disability that is the result of a cognitive and/or physical impairment, which occurs before the age of 22. Individuals with developmental disabilities often require different levels of support throughout their life time.

In the 1930s, the average life expectancy for individuals with developmental disabilities was 19 years. With advanced health treatments and community support, the average life expectancy for individuals who have mild to moderate levels of disabilities has increased significantly in the past 40 years. Researchers have estimated that the average life expectancy has grown from 60 years old in the 1970s1 to 78 years old in 2007.2 Recent literature has also supported that the life expectancy for individuals with developmental disabilities is similar to the general population and it is now possible for individuals with developmental disabilities to live well into their 70s.3, 4, 5

While increased life expectancy is certainly a victory, it's important to recognize the functional changes that accompany aging and the growing need for support services for aging individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.


  1. Braddock, D. (1999). Aging and developmental disabilities: Demographic and policy issues affecting American families. Mental Retardation, 37(2), 155-161.
  2. Minino, A., Xu, J., Kochanek, K. & Tejada-Vera, B. (2009). Death in the United States, 2007. NCHS Data Brief, 26. Retrieved from
  3. Bittles, A., Petterson, B., Sullivan, S., Hussain, R., Glasson, E., & Montgomery, P. (2002). The influence of intellectual disability on life expectancy. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Science and Medical Science, 57, 470-472.
  4. Coppus, A. M. W. (2013). People with intellectual disability: What do we know about adulthood and life expectancy? Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 18(1), 6-16.
  5. Janicki, M.P., Dalton, A.J., Henderson, C., & Davidson, P. (1999). Mortality and morbidity among older adults with intellectual disability: Health services considerations. Disability and Rehabilitation, 21(5/6), 284-294.