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Transitions in Aging

Promoting Community Participation

Provide Meaningful Activities

Photo of people talking

  • Have a purpose
      - Foster a sense of achievement
  • Build friendships
      - Maintain social relationships
      - Develop new contacts
  • Promote continuity
      - Offer a feeling of steadiness and familiarity

NEXT: Ensure Autonomy: Provide Opportunities to Exercise Choice

Notes and References

What can we do to help older individuals with developmental disabilities stay engaged in meaningful activities? The first step is to discuss with older adults with developmental disabilities their strengths, interests, and desires.

Consider activities that tap into the individual's past interests and skills. Next, the focus of the activity is not what is done, but in the process of the doing. Here are some activity ideas: physical activities (e.g., walking, dancing, exercises), hobbies (e.g., knitting, scrapbooking), intellectual activities (e.g., reminiscence, puzzles, reading newspaper), sensory activities (e.g., horticulture, relaxation, Snoezlan), and domestic activities (e.g., shopping, cooking, housework), just to name a few. You might ask: don't these domestic activities feel like "chores" for many? You would be right! But if the idea is presented as being a contribution to helping their families, the action can then accompany a purposeful experience. This sense of meaning behind an activity can make it interesting and motivating for individuals with developmental disabilities. Additionally, research has shown that having a specific role or job when in a group environment can help the person with a disability make a positive contribution to the group.1, 2 We cannot force older adults with developmental disabilities to do something with a sense of purpose, however, we can help these individuals find meaning and purpose within the activity.

Additionally, to be an active community member, one needs to become familiar with other community members. So consider involving older adults with developmental disabilities in group activities or activities that require collaboration with others. This will allow individuals to do an activity with the same people at the same place, and over time, they can get to know other community members and establish friendships.

Finally, we should consider whether individuals with developmental disabilities can continually participate in these activities if there is any change in their functional ability. We should involve individuals in activities that can be modified based on one's skill and functional levels. That way, they can continue to participate in the same activities, but have the opportunity to develop their skills. Additionally, they are able to experience a feeling of steadiness and familiarity with the routine. For example, we can encourage older individuals with developmental disabilities to volunteer for community events or in their faith communities. Based on one's skill level and interest, individuals can sign up for different tasks. This work allows them to do something to contribute to their community, become friends with others working on the same activities, and stay involved in their community as long as they desire.


  1. Reidy, D. (1993). Friendships and Community Connections between People with and without Developmental Disabilities. Baltimore, MD: Paul lt. Brookes Publishing Co.
  2. Harlan-Simmons, J. E., Holtz, P., Todd, J., & Moaney, M. F. (2001). Building social relationships through valued roles: Three older adults and the community membership project. Mental Retardation, 39(3), 171-180.