When you feel healthy, you feel great no matter what age you are. As you get older, you may notice changes in your body and in how you feel. Being aware of these changes may be the first step in taking care of yourself, and staying healthy.
As you get older you may develop new health needs. It is normal to experience changes in your health, and it is important to share any changes and feelings with your family and caregivers.
“Adults with Down syndrome, developmental disabilities, along with their families and caregivers, need accurate information and education about what to anticipate as a part of growing older, so they can set the stage for successful aging.”
Changes in Health
Taking an active role in learning about your health is the first step towards self-care and to becoming and staying as healthy as possible. Self-care starts with educating yourself, the people who support you and even your family physician.
As you age, you may notice some changes in the following areas. Write down any areas that you are worried about, and talk to your doctor about these concerns.
Injury recovery generally takes longer as you age. If you are injured, allow your injury time to heal—yet keep the rest of your body moving to help maintain or rebuild your flexibility, balance, and strength. After an injury, ask your doctor about trying a new activity such as swimming, water exercises, biking, walking, yoga, Pilates, or rowing1.
Click on each area to learn some helpful tips for dealing with these changes
- Reduce background noise such as turning down the radio or TV or turning off fans.
- Use hearing aids, ensure they are clean and have working batteries.
- Face the person speaking.
- Check if there are other aids that will help you (example: phone amplifier, fire alarm with flashing lights, vibrating alarm clock).
- Have your hearing tested.
- Use caution – as sense of taste diminishes, it may be easy to increase salt and sugar, which may have harmful effects.
- Use spices to flavour food.
- Maintain good oral hygiene & denture care.
- Present food attractively.
- Ensure adequate lighting/install nightlights.
- Install handrails and mark stairs for increase visibility.
- Keep objects in same position and keep walkways clear.
- Allow more time for eyes to adjust; dark to light.
- Use bright colours so items standout.
- Wear and clean your eye glasses.
- Have your vision checked.
- Test water temperature before using.
- Wear closed-toe shoes/socks to prevent injury.
- Check for injuries regularly (especially feet).
- Provide sensory experiences (example: Snoozalen rooms, opportunities to feel different textures).
- Exercise is important. It helps maintain muscle mass, maintain bone density, and helps prevent depression.
- Keep fitness as a priority and part of your day-to-day routine.
- Walk or do other exercise you enjoy or suggested by your family physician or physiotherapist.
- Skin becomes dry, flaky, less elastic, thin and fragile; bruises and tears easily; nails become tougher, brittle, and thick.
- Use caution with any pull or pressure on the skin.
- Use lotion and sun screen on skin.
- Use lip balm on lips to protect skin.
- Have regular nail care.
- Use a podiatrist if needed (a doctor specializing in foot problems).
- Increased risk of colds and pneumonia; coughing is less effective, causing an increased risk of choking; harder to catch your breath after activity; sleep apnea (short periods where you stop breathing during sleep) is common in adults with Down syndrome or those overweight.
- Get annual flu shot.
- Pace yourself during activity.
- Monitor sleep patterns, especially if there is a change in mood, behaviour or ability to concentrate.
- Don’t talk while you eat.
- Appetite changes, weight changes; problems chewing and swallowing, loss of teeth; often problems with reflux (burping up food and stomach contents) and constipation.
- Let someone know if you gain or lose 10 pounds in six months.
- Check if you need a change in your diet, or need to see a dysphagia (difficulty with swallowing) specialist.
- Make sure you have a high fibre diet with plenty of fluids.
- Decreased ability to get the nutrients from food eaten to the cells in the body – food needs to be nutritious and avoid junk food.
- Take medications as directed.
- Difficulty balancing; discomfort or pain in moving; slower reaction times.
- Use of walking aids as recommended.
- Get up from sitting or lying slowly.
- Warm up your muscles before activity.
- See your family doctor or nurse practitioner if pain from movement is not controlled.
- Don’t rush.
- Continue to participate in activities that interest you.
- Use memory cues such as picture labels.
- Enjoy opportunities to learn new things – ensure enough time to learn.
- Continue to laugh and have fun.
- Keep and build friendships – fix conflicts from the past.
- Be aware that changes in roles, loss of abilities, and changes in networks may cause grief – talk to someone about these changes.
- Ensure a good fluid intake (6-8 glasses of water daily). Check with your family doctor if this is OK.
- Ensure you go to the bathroom at least every 2 hours when you are awake (don’t hold it).
- Use adult products for leakage and change them as needed.
- Let your family physician know if any problems with leakage, difficulty starting the urine or any discomfort or pain on going to the bathroom.
- Discuss any concerns about your sexual health with your family physician.
- Discuss any concerns about changes in menstrual cycle or pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS): physical and emotional symptoms that can occur during certain times of a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Early Detection Screen for Dementia
It is important for individuals with developmental disabilities, their families and caregivers to check changes in their thinking ability as they age that may impact behaviour and skills in daily living. One tool that may be helpful is the National Task Group-Early Detection Screen for Dementia (NTG-EDSD).
This tool helps individuals with developmental disabilities or their caregivers to track changes that may be early signs of memory loss. Through the NTG-EDSD tool, you can review and share information to start the conversation with health care professionals.
It’s normal to have to slowly change your idea about how far you can push your body. If you’re used to pushing yourself, accept your body’s changes and go slower1.
It’s important to observe any changes you experience in your health as you age. Being aware of concerns can assist your family physician to treat you. It is a good idea to know what is normal for you so you can describe what is different.
Here are few things to keep in mind
Describe the change
- How does the change affect you (physically or emotionally)?
- Energy level
- Ability to move and get around
- Soreness, stiffness or pain
- What makes it better or worse? What did you do for it?
- How long has this been a concern? Have you had this problem before?
- When does it occur (time of day, number of times per day/week, setting it occurs)?
More about you
- What questions would you like answered by your family physician?
- Are there any cultural considerations you want your family physician to be aware of?
Quality of Life and Healthy Aging
One way to understand the impact of changes in your health as you age is to use the Quality of Life Framework.
This framework brings together information and ideas from different parts of a person’s life, and provides a common language for talking with individuals and support networks about the things in life that matter to everyone. It helps ensure that people with developmental disabilities and those who support them consider all elements of a well-balanced and positive life rather than focusing on just a couple of areas.
Coming back to these areas in regular discussions with the people in your life can help you to notice changes in your health and identify when there is a problem that needs to be addressed4.
This is important to think about when planning for the future. The Quality of Life Framework can be used as a ‘way in’ to creating or updating a plan. CLBC has developed Aging with a Developmental Disability: A planning guide for families, personal support networks and other support workers of adults with developmental disabilities who are getting older that includes a focus on planning with quality of life areas in mind. Use this guide to help you develop your plan for the future.
Quality of life is represented by eight domains that cover three broad areas. Use the desired outcomes listed below as touchstones to help you figure out questions to ask and areas to focus on.
- Individuals pursue their interests
- Individuals have opportunities for personal growth and skill development
- Individuals have access to necessary information and support
Individuals make decisions in their lives about things that matter to them
Individuals have meaningful relationships with family and friends
Individuals participate in community life in roles they and society value
- Individuals have autonomy
- Individuals’ decisions are respected
- Individuals feel safe in their home and community
- Individuals have a positive sense of self and trust the people in their lives.
- Individuals are physically healthy and active
- Individuals have access to the health care they need
Individuals have the financial resources to do the things that are important to them
From CLBC Strategy on Aging, 2013
“As you and the person you are supporting get older it is a good idea to pay particular attention to the Physical Well-Being domain as many of the changes related to aging are physical in nature and often generate health-care-related needs. However it is important not to ignore other Quality of Life domains. The other aspects of people’s lives are just as important. Be careful that physical changes and health care needs do not become the only driving force in planning, as that can lead to reduced quality of life and missed opportunities in other domains.” From CLBC’s Aging with a Developmental Disability Guide
CLBC has developed Aging with a Developmental Disability: A planning guide for families, personal support networks and other support workers of adults with developmental disabilities who are getting older that includes a focus on planning with quality of life areas in mind. Use this guide to help you develop your plan for the future.
Open yourself to humour, friendship, and love. Go out of your way to find reasons to laugh and to spend time with people you enjoy2.
Looking Forward to the Future
Another resource to look at as you begin to think about planning for the future is Looking Forward to the Future: Supporting Individuals with Developmental Disabilities as They Age. This is a compilation of stories to celebrate aging. It serves to remind us of the ways we must come together to create opportunities, and honour people’s aspirations to be full members of community while we stay committed to the right support, at the right time, for people as they age.
These stories include perspectives from individuals and families who have been planning for their own and their son’s or daughter’s futures, other steadfast supporters who commit to this work through their role as friend or service provider, and partners from health who bring their own experiences related to health and aging. At the heart of each story is somebody who is or will be experiencing aging related changes.
This book is a great opportunity to hear people’s stories and learn from their experiences.