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Transitions in Aging

Supporting Individuals with Developmental Disabilities as Caregivers

Coping with Caregiving Stress

Photo: baby is held out to smiling elderly man

  • Unique challenges
      - Aging caregivers
      - Stress
  • How to assist aging caregivers
      - Support caregivers to use coping approaches

NEXT: Plan Ahead

Notes and References

Aging adults with developmental disabilities who are caregivers experience many challenges in managing their own healthcare needs and their loved one's needs.1

Therefore, support from professionals and acquiring coping skills can benefit these individuals. The changes in caregiving demands associated with aging need to be considered when determining the effectiveness of coping strategies. Many individuals with developmental disabilities who are caregivers may perceive the challenges and stressors they face as ones that cannot be changed or resolved, yet we can encourage these caregivers to re-evaluate the situations and help them to identify useful coping strategies. For example, some chronic conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, can be controlled with proper diet and an active lifestyle. Therefore, we can provide information on how to manage these health conditions and do role-playing exercises with the individuals with developmental disabilities who are caregivers to help them become familiar with some of the situations they may encounter in the future.

Second, working with the caregivers who have developmental disabilities on reframing the situation to accept that, though problems may not always be solved, they can be managed.2 It is important to help individuals with developmental disabilities understand that their loved ones may not function how they used to, even if they do an excellent job as a caregiver. Giving them realistic expectations may help them find the tasks more manageable.

Finally, we may need to help caregivers who have developmental disabilities shift their priorities in order to manage stress. For instance, a caregiver who consistently puts the loved one's needs ahead of their own may experience some negative feelings. Therefore, we can discuss with individuals with developmental disabilities who are caregivers how to balance their caregiving responsibilities by scheduling time for their own needs, such as daily 10-minute meditation/prayer time or 30-minute alone time for their own leisure interests. That way, we can help individuals with developmental disabilities avoid burnout.


  1. Dunn, M. E., Burbine, T., Bowers, C. A. & Tantleff-Dunn, S. (2001). Moderators of stress in parents of children with autism. Community Mental Health Journal, 37, 39-52.
  2. Hastings, R. P., Kovshoff, H., Brown, T., Ward, N. J., Espinosa, F. D. & Remington, B. (2005). Coping strategies in mothers and fathers of preschool and school-age children with autism. Autism, 9, 377-91.
  3. Gallagher-Thompson, D., Lovett, S., Rose, J., McKibbin, C., Coon, D., Futterman, A., & Thompson, L. W. (2000). Impact of psychoeducational interventions on distressed family caregivers. Journal of Clinical Geropsychology, 6, 91-110.
  4. Piazza, V. E., Floyd, F. J., Mailick, M. R. & Greenberg, J. S. (2014). Coping and psychological health of aging parents of adult children with developmental disabilities. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 119(2), 186-198.