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As people age in the normal manner, many need care and protection and medical facilities close at hand. However, if an elderly person also suffers intellectual disability, the need for specialised care may present a unique set of challenges for caregivers.

Individuals with intellectual disability are individuals who have a different range of cognitive and emotional needs – and even if they have been reasonably independent during their youth and middle years, growing old comes with its own set of issues for people who are already compromised.

Ways to ensure the best care in later years

Create a safe and supportive environment

  • The environment in which individuals with intellectual disabilities live should be safe, supportive, and conducive to their well-being. Every individual must have access to basic needs, such as food, water, and medication. Caregivers should ensure that the living space is kept clean, well-lit, and free of potential hazards.
  • Creating a supportive environment can also involve finding ways to help the individual maintain their independence and social connections. This may involve providing opportunities for them to engage in activities they enjoy, such as art or music, or connecting them with community organisations that cater to their interests.

Address physical and medical needs

  • Individuals with intellectual disabilities may be more vulnerable to certain physical and medical conditions. Caregivers should work with healthcare professionals to ensure that every individual receives regular check-ups and any necessary treatments or medications timeously.
  • In addition to physical health, caregivers should also address any mental health needs that the individual may have. This may involve finding ways to help the individual cope with stress and anxiety or providing access to counselling or therapy.

Maintain open communication.

  • As individuals with intellectual disabilities age, their communication abilities may change. Caregivers should be prepared to adapt to these changes and find effective methods to communicate with the individual without causing confusion. This may involve using visual aids, such as pictures or written instructions, or utilising assistive technology.
  • Open and honest communication with the patient and their family members or other support systems, is vital. This ensures that everyone is on the same page, and the individual’s needs are being efficiently met.

Provide meaningful activities and social connections

  • There’s no doubt that social connections and meaningful activities can have a significant impact on the wellbeing of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Caregivers should work to provide daily opportunities for the individual to engage in activities they enjoy and to connect with others.
  • This means ensuring that a patient finds ways to become involved in community activities or connect with other individuals who share their interests. It is also important to provide opportunities for the individual to learn new skills such as crafts and games like cards or chess that would help them to continue a learning curve, remain mentally active, and continue to grow and develop as they age.

Plan for end-of-life care well in advance

  • Like everybody else, individuals with intellectual disabilities need to plan for their end-of-life care. As they may not be able to do this for themselves, it’s good have discussions on the issue fairly regularly, so the patient becomes clearly aware of the importance of planning for this inevitability. This may involve discussing their point of view and their wishes for end-of-life care, where they might like to go, and making sure their medical and legal documents are up to date.
  • Caregivers themselves, who may be family members, should also work within the ID person’s support system in order to develop a plan for their own care in the event of their personal health decline and passing. Either way, these situations involve writing wills, making funeral arrangements, and working with legal professionals to ensure that estates are managed appropriately.

Caring for individuals with intellectual disabilities in old age can be challenging, but it is also incredibly rewarding. Depending on the severity of the elderly person’s intellectual disability, team work from professional carers, family members, advanced support systems, and up-to-date care facilities, should see society with the tools to provide well-managed protection for those in our communities who require special attention, and the best care possible in their later years.

The story of Sunfield Home

Chris and Lynne Bennett, parents of a young girl with Down Syndrome, pursued their dream of establishing a home for their daughter and other intellectually disabled young adults in the Western Cape. Together with other parents, they founded the Sunfield Home in Wellington, providing a loving and nurturing environment for over 100 residents and day-care adult individuals.

Each individual is screened to evaluate their strengths and allocate activities according to their abilities. A protective workshop has been established where contract work is undertaken, as well as arts and crafts activities. An employment scheme has also been developed and as a result permanent and successful positions have been found within the surrounding wine and cheese industries.

Find out more about us at: www.sunfieldhome.co.za