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Transitions in Aging

Supporting Individuals with Developmental Disabilities as Caregivers

Coping Approaches

Photo of a younger and older woman communicating closely

  • Focus on problems or issues
      - Planning
      - Seeking support
      - Problem-solving
  • Focus on emotions
      - Talking to others
      - Relaxation
      - Prayer or meditation

NEXT: Coping with Caregiving Stress

Notes and References

When working with people with developmental disabilities who are caregivers, it may be important to discuss coping strategies or approaches.

Stress arises when individuals feel they do not have sufficient resources to respond to the demands of a situation. People with many resources, such as money, social support, or coping skills, tend to manage a stressful situation better, experiencing fewer negative outcomes from the stressful situation.1 There are many strategies to manage stress, but they often fall into one of two categories: engagement coping and disengagement coping.1 Coping with problems (or engagement coping) is to engage in constructive behaviors to change the stressful condition such as problem solving or seeking support. On the other hand, coping with emotions (or disengagement coping) is to regulate negative emotions caused by the stressful event. More specifically, planning or taking preventative measures, re-evaluating the situation and seeking support/resources, and problem-solving actions fall under problem-focused coping. For example, when encountering a health crisis, one can get advice or help from health professionals and other people about what to do. Or, family and friends can come together to discuss and plan what to do before a crisis occurs.

However, there are some situations we cannot change or control, such as chronic conditions or the death of a loved one. For those situations, approaches such as talking to others or praying can help the individuals better manage the situation. For instance, caregivers find praying or engaging in other religious activities a good way to help them cope with difficult caregiving situations.2 Many of us also share our negative feelings or frustration to let off steam.

It is important to know that both coping approaches have been shown to reduce stress1.


  1. Taylor, S. (2012). Health Psychology, 8th Ed. Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.
  2. AARP (2013). Caregivers: Life changes and coping strategies. Retrieved from