Retirement for service-users with an intellectual disability has been described as a time, the necessities having been accomplished, to do what one wants to do, to explore new interests and friendships and to have leisure time to engage in non-harmful activities of the service-user’s own informed choosing (Cotton 1991).
Similar to the general ageing population, older adults with intellectual disabilities face issues such as declining health, changing roles and retirement. However, service-users with an intellectual disability are rarely informed or aware of how their lives may change. Older adults with an intellectual disability are often constrained by a lack of understanding of concepts such as retirement and a lack of awareness of choices. With the lack of experience and skills to make decisions, individuals may not only be limited by a lack of awareness, but also by an inability to choose between options. In addition, opportunities for these individuals to participate in making decisions and choices that affect their lives as they age are often limited.
Common transitions experienced by older service- users include retirement with loss of vocational role, home relocation, bereavement and loss of independence as a result of declining abilities in instrumental activities of daily living. Change interrupts the service-user’s daily pattern of activity and can put health, identity and self-esteem at risk. Unexpected, involuntary and numerous transitions are the most difficult to deal with. If the change is anticipated or chosen the person might adjust more readily to the transition. Older service-users with intellectual disabilities may find that retirement from paid employment brings the cessation of socially valued roles as well as the disruption to daily activities, social supports and income. The loss or change of friends when moving to a new programme can pose a significant barrier and many are reluctant to retire to senior programmes because of fear of losing their workshop or job income and close network of friends made in the workplace.
Pre-retirement attitudes about retirement and leisure activity participation can be two of the strongest contributors to retirement satisfaction and life satisfaction for older adults. Later-life planning has been suggested as one means of facilitating an enhanced awareness of options for older adults with intellectual disabilities. A study by Heller et al (1996) suggests that a later-life planning training programme can be an effective means of teaching older adults with intellectual disabilities about later-life issues. It is primarily focused on teaching adults with intellectual disabilities about making choices, current and potential living arrangements, work options and roles, health and wellness, use of leisure time and recreation, use of formal and informal supports, setting goals and making action plans.
The debate on directions for policy and service development for older service-users with lifelong disabilities must be cast wider. Service providers should listen and offer choices, and take their direction for facilitating opportunities for elderly service-users with an intellectual disability. If a more positive, optimistic stance towards later life were adopted, a climate could be fostered that would ensure that the full range of options are considered for adults in later life. Rather than focusing on retirement, the focus must shift to how existing or alternative services can provide optimal living environments, skill maintenance and development, stimulating leisure, recreational and social opportunities appropriate to each individual’s rate of ageing. Older age can be viewed as an opportunity to enjoy life and develop further- Such a view should underpin our approach to older service-users with intellectual disabilities.