Top 5 Developmental Disabilities in the Elderly

What are the most common developmental disabilities in the elderly that I can expect?

There are many developmental disabilities that our elderly community faces, some of which are defined uniquely to their specific physical and mental challenges that require an intentional process to help them navigate life and experience a new normal in their daily routine. Among developmental disabilities within our senior citizens, there are five specific ones that seem to rise above the others as most common:

  • foot problems
  • arthritis
  • cognitive impairment
  • heart problems
  • vision

Other important, and somewhat common, challenges include (but are not limited to):

  • hearing impairment
  • chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, like COPD, coronary heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease
  • falls
  • hip fractures

For the elderly who are more frail, it will be a significan decline in physical and mental function that will result in cases where there seems to be a minimal impact from a fall or physical impact in landing. This scenario is commonly known as the "domino" effect, where a small and seemingly insignificant occurance takes the dominant place of cascading a multitude of adverse events following. 

Are there any risk factors? 

There are several factors that play a strong part in contributing in the frailty of the elderly dealing with developmental disabilities:

  • Predisposing (early childhood development, lifestyle)
  • physical inactivity
  • chronic disease
  • anorexia/malnutrition later in adulthood
  • potential lack of education
  • transient lifestyle
  • slow gait
  • diabetes
  • arthritis
  • poor self-perceived health
  • depression
  • sedentary lifestyle
  • limited access to social life
  • limited access to healthcare

This is not intended to be a completed list, but rather a starting point in order to recognize where you or your loved one may be headed. There is great comfort to be taken in knowing where you could be and having the necessary provisions in place to help you navigate the details in advance as much as possible. 

How does all this compair to the normal ageing process?

Within the normal ageing process, there is a 1-2% decline in functional ability per year. Combine this with a sedentary lifestyle, along with any of the above mentioned factors, you will see an accelerated loss of performance. Age related physicological changes include (but are not limited to):

  • changes in body composition, with significant reduction in muscle bulk and lean body mass, as well as body fat may increase
  • reduction in bone mass, with strength increasing the risk of fractures
  • changes in joints and their functions in normal behavioral activity
  • reduction in blood volume, and less ability to control blood pressure with simple change in posture
  • reduced sensitivity to vitamin D and subsequent reduction in calcium absorption
  • reduced elasticity of the eye's lense
  • high tone hearing impairment


While you cannot control the developmental disabilities within the elderly community, you can contribute to the increase of stability as they navigate the process of living through the changes that will come. Being an available and intentional person of support for your loved one, and finding a supportive community for your own process, is a vital key to the success of truly living within the process of discovering life while understanding developmental disabilities. 

(Tags - care - mental health - Power of Attorney )

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