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Transitions in Aging

Aging with Developmental Disabilities

Concept of Age

Photo of woman with birthday cake

  • Chronological age: Number of years since birth
  • Biological age: Biological capacities
  • Psychological age: Psychological characteristics
  • Social age: Social roles and expectations

NEXT: Successful Aging

Notes and References

To understand how we can support older adults who have developmental disabilities, we should first recognize that the concept of age is multidimensional. That is, individuals may experience and define "age" in different ways.

The first and most common way to define age is by our chronological age, the number of years lived since our birth. However, people who share the same chronological age can have biological capacities of differing degrees as well as varied psychological maturity or cognitive functioning. It is known that people who have an active lifestyle report better physical function and capacities, compared to those who are inactive.1 Therefore, knowing one's chronological age is insufficient to determine what types of services and support would be appropriate for an aging individual with developmental disabilities. Finally, we are expected to perform certain social roles during certain age ranges.2 For example, based on our cultural norm, most individuals are forming intimate relationships and possibly becoming parents in their 20s and 30s. Additionally, many individuals would enter retirement in their 60s. We are expected to perform certain behaviors based on our social roles and therefore, would require different types of support depending on our roles.

Given the different dimensions of age, a 50-year-old man (chronological age) who has Down syndrome might have good physical health (biological age), yet be experiencing some difficulty in remembering and focusing attention (psychological age). The same man may need to begin caring for his older parents (social role). Hence, developing a comprehensive age profile with the consideration of chronological, biological, psychological, and social age can help determine proper services and supports needed for the individual.


  1. Brach, J. S., Simonsick, E. M., Kritchevsky, S., Yaffe, K., & Newman, A. B. (2004). The association between physical function and lifestyle activity and exercise in the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 52(4), 502-509.
  2. Hoyer, W. J., & Roodin, P. A. (2002). Adult development and aging (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.