Building a picture of ageing in persons with intellectual disability: Future directions for ageing well

by Colin Griffiths

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The launch of the first wave of results of the Intellectual Disability Supplement of the The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) was coupled with a one-day conference in Trinity College Dublin that took place on 9 September 2011. The conference was entitled ‘Building a picture of ageing in persons with intellectual disability: Future directions for ageing well’.

The purpose of the conference was to discuss some of the themes that had been identified in the report. To this end a group of international experts in the field of ageing and intellectual disability presented analyses of the most salient themes in the report. Professor Mary McCarron of the School of Nursing and Midwifery in Trinity College, who is the principal investigator of the intellectual disability supplement, opened the conference and introduced Dr Patrick Prendergast, the newly elected Provost of Trinity College. The Provost spoke of the importance of curiosity in life because it enriches and extends all our lives; he described some of the positives and challenges of the ageing process. Dr Prendergast noted that the increased life expectancy that people with an intellectual disability enjoy is something to celebrate. The Minister for State with special responsibility for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People, Kathleen Lynch, spoke passionately of the rights of people with intellectual disability to full inclusion, to live in places that they choose, to live as they wish and to live lives of quality. The Minister noted that the intellectual disability supplement of TILDA is an example of the importance of obtaining evidence as to how to support older people with intellectual disability to live fully inclusive lives. Minister Lynch then formally launched the report.

Self advocate Paul Alford opened the formal proceedings, explaining how he had come to live independently and to make the major decisions in his life in an autonomous manner. The findings of the first wave of the IDS TILDA research were launched by Professor McCarron during the morning. Professor McCarron explained that the research project is designed to explore how people with an intellectual disability age, if they age in a similar way to the generic population, and how some patterns of ageing differ. The research study looked at the ageing profile of people with intellectual disability, their health, service needs, psychological health and social networks. The research study also described the living situation of people with ID and the extent to which people with intellectual disability achieve full inclusion in community life. The 753 people who took part in the study represented 9% of the population of people with intellectual disability who are aged over 40. It was acknowledged that we live in a society where the number of older people in the generic population, and the number of older people with intellectual disability, are rising and that this is a sign of the health of people in Ireland—and is a success story. The subsequent presentations looked at various aspects of ageing. Professor Charles Normand detailed some of the first wave of findings of the generic ten.10 year TILDA project. Roy McConkey looked at a possible All Ireland approach to the study. In the afternoon a varied programme took place; the first presentations examined the health of older people with ID, and the concerns of people as they age. Subsequent presentations looked at the rights of older people with intellectual disability, how they should be supported, and lastly how to develop a better understanding of dementia in people with intellectual disability.

The conference concluded with a lively question and answer session and the audience departed having been given much food for thought. The report of the first wave of results from the intellectual disability supplement of the Irish longitudinal study on ageing entitled Growing older with an intellectual disability in Ireland in 2011 is available on the website of the School of Nursing and Midwifery of Trinity College (http://www.nursing.midwifery.tcd.ie).

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