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Transitions in Aging

Promoting Community Participation

Aging and Retirement

Photo of people sitting on bench

  • Retirement from a paid position
      - Loss of status, income, and social contacts
  • "Retirement" from day programs
      - Limited social support network
  • Changes in services

NEXT: Active Community Member

Notes and References

Like other older adults, people aging with a developmental disability have the option of retiring from the workforce when reaching retirement age.

For some who have worked for most of their adulthood, they look forward to enjoying the stress-free time of retirement. However, many scholars have reported that older adults with developmental disabilities may not share the same enthusiastic attitude toward retirement for various reasons, including loss of social status, source of income, and social contacts.1 For many, a paid job is indicative of a meaningful social role and personal success. To stop working may make individuals with developmental disabilities feel that they have lost a significant component of social status and personal identity.2 Subsequently, there is a need to begin planning for retirement.

Throughout their adulthood, individuals with developmental disabilities are also more likely to be unemployed, under-employed, or in a position in which they only receive a minimal wage from day or sheltered programs. Therefore, people often do not accumulate sufficient savings to fund their retirement. In addition, work also provides opportunities for people with disabilities to socialize with others and enhances the likelihood of establishing new social networks. On average, people with developmental disabilities tend to participate in fewer social activities with their relatives, friends, and neighbors, compared to someone without a disability.3 Retiring from the work force may further limit their social interactions with others.

Next, some individuals with developmental disabilities consider attending day program centers or sheltered workshops as part of their daily routine. They often see the staff in these programs as their friends.4 As people with developmental disabilities tend to identify fewer friends,5 retiring from day or sheltered programs either voluntarily or involuntarily further limits their social support network.

Finally, older adults with developmental disabilities are often caught in between aging-related service providers and disability service providers. Individuals with developmental disabilities often receive services within the developmental disabilities service network throughout their lives. While some services do not have an age cap, older adults with developmental disabilities may be referred to aging-related service providers when they approach retirement age. Many older adults with developmental disabilities and their families report having difficulties finding the necessary support services between different systems due to the lack of training and knowledge about other service networks.6

So how do people aging with developmental disabilities view retirement? Rogers and colleagues (1998) conducted a study with retired people with developmental disabilities to understand their perceptions about retirement.7 The majority of their participants reported their desire to return to work; only a few participants felt that they were enjoying their retirement. Those who viewed their retirement positively also reported active involvement in meaningful leisure activities in their community. Hence, we should consider what transition planning aging individuals with developmental disabilities will need following their retirement. How can we shift their focus from work to meaningful daily activities that allow them to stay engaged in their communities?


  1. Butler, S., MacLellan, M., & Humble, A. (2006). The next stage: Retirement planning for older adults with developmental disabilities. Public Health Agency of Canada.
  2. Fesko, S. L., Hall, A. C., Quinlan, J., & Jockell, C. (2012). Active aging for individuals with intellectual disability: Meaningful community participation through employment, retirement, service, and volunteerism American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 117(6), 497-508.
  3. Wehman, P. H. (2011). Employment for persons with disabilities: Where are we now and where do we need to go? Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 35, 145-151.
  4. Buys, L., Aird, R., & Miller, E. (2012). Active ageing among older adults with lifelong intellectual disabilities: The role of familial and nonfamilial social networks. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 93(1), 55-64.
  5. Tipton, L. A., Christensen, L., & Blacher, J. (2013). Friendship quality in adolescents with and without an intellectual disability. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 26(6), 522-532.
  6. Putnam, M. & Stoever, A. (2006). Facilitators and barriers to crossing networking lines: A Missouri case study. In M. Putnam (Ed.), Aging and disability: Crossing network lines (pp. 19-54). New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.
  7. Rogers, N. B., Hawkins, B. A., & Eklund, S. J. (1998). The nature of leisure in the lives of older adults with intellectual disability. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 42(2), 122-130.