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Transitions in Aging

Aging with Developmental Disabilities

Aging Process

Photo of people sitting on bus

  • Experience conditions similar to that of the general population
    • Declines in vision, hearing, muscle mass, and bone density
  • Secondary conditions
    • Overweight and obesity, cardiovascular disease, dental and oral hygiene problems
  • Premature aging

NEXT: Factors for Secondary Conditions

Notes and References

Many people question what unique challenges aging individuals with developmental disabilities may face. It is important to note that individuals with developmental disabilities experience age-related changes similar to those of the general population.

Through the aging process, we all experience slight, gradual declines in our vision, hearing, muscle mass, and bone density.1 However, literature has shown that adults who are aging with a developmental disability are more likely to report obesity, cardiovascular disease, as well as dental and oral hygiene issues.2 For example, Hsieh and others (2014) reported that the rate of obesity in people with intellectual disabilities was twice as high compared to that of the general population.3 In the following slides, we will discuss what factors contribute to these secondary conditions as well as strategies to decrease the rate at which aging individuals with developmental disabilities develop these conditions. Finally, we should be aware that, due to the pre-existing neurologic, functional, and physical impairments, individuals with some types of developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome and cerebral palsy, are likely to experience premature aging and demonstrate signs of aging at an earlier age than that of the general population.4


  1. Hoyer, W. J., & Roodin, P. A. (2002). Adult development and aging (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
  2. Hirst, S. (2012). Aging with a developmental disability: A health perspective. In D. Cook (Ed.), Supports and services for older adults with developmental disabilities study: Supplementary reports (pp. 14-41). Calgary: Seniors and Community Supports. Retrieved from
  3. Hsieh, K., Rimmer, J. H., & Heller, T. (2014). Obesity and associated factors in adults with intellectual disability. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 58(9), 851-863. doi: 10.1111/jir.12100
  4. Strax, T. E., Luciano, L., Dunn, A. M., & Quevedo, J. P. (2010). Aging and developmental disability. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America, 21(2), 419-427.