Although autism is better known among children and adolescents, this condition can also affect adults at any age. No matter the stage of life, a diagnosis of autism means learning to deal with daily life in a different way. Autism in seniors does come with its unique set of challenges, involving the elderly themselves as well as their caregivers and families.
Within our community, we believe that it is important to know how to recognize autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in seniors to better understand its relationship with aging. The goal is to better care for our elderly autistic loved ones, with the greatest respect for their rights throughout society.
Autism / ASD : What you need to know
Frequently referred to by the acronym « ASD » (for Autism Spectrum Disorder), autism is considered a condition that affects various aspects of a person’s development. Regardless of their age, this neurological disorder can impact many areas of daily life such as social interactions, communication, behaviors and more.
Since symptoms are quite variable from one person to another and are likely to evolve over time, a clear diagnosis of autism in older adults can be difficult to make for healthcare professionals.
Understanding autism in seniors
At this point, only few studies have been done about the relation between autism and aging. Looking back just a couple of years ago, the diagnosis of autism was significantly less common in elderly people. Over time, as we learn more about the correlation between autism and age, it may become easier to identify the more specific needs of seniors with autism.
Caring for an elderly relative with autism
As a caregiver (or family member) of a senior with autism, it is important to make sure that we adopt a respectful approach, adapted to the particular needs of the individual’s reality. Taking care of an autistic elderly loved one therefore implies a lot of attention and compassion. Especially if we consider that the relationships between autism and certain other health problems or challenges related to aging remain unknown. In this sense, here are some ideas to guide your approach :
1. Identify the specific needs of your elderly loved one
Every person, autistic or not, has unique needs. For seniors with autism, one major challenge is to clearly identify those needs. As a family caregiver, you have the huge advantage of knowing your elderly relative better than anyone else: understanding their specific needs certainly helps to take better care of them on a daily basis.
2. Set routines and limit the unexpected
Autism and unexpected events do not usually mix well. In order to limit stress, it may be appropriate to consider setting up routines through daily life. By limiting exposure to frequent changes, it will help to make the person feel more reassured.
3. Live in a calm and comforting environment
The living environment of a senior with autism can have a significant impact on the quality of life. A peaceful environment, away from excessive stimuli, is more likely to be comforting for the elderly autistic person. It is therefore important to ensure that your elderly relative evolves in a calm environment that is well adapted to his or her well-being.
4. Finding the balance between socialization and social isolation
The prevention of social isolation is an ongoing challenge for the entire elderly population. For a senior with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, this issue is even more challenging. While social exclusion remains a major issue, it is equally important to avoid imposing social interactions that might make the person uncomfortable.
Therefore, social activities should be planned in a way that the senior with autism will feel comfortable. The goal is to find the right balance for your elderly loved one.
Respecting the rights of seniors living with autism
With a better understanding of autism in seniors, a major objective is to ensure that the rights of seniors with autism across society are better respected. Here are some things to look for, in order to provide equal access to services and resources across your community.
- Right to dignity;
- Right to autonomy and independence;
- Access to services adapted to seniors with autism;
- Medical care that properly suits the needs of these seniors;
- Equality and respect, without social discrimination;
- Rights to leisure and entertainment;
- The right to live in an adapted environment.
Regarding this very last point, the environment in which seniors with autism live is indeed a major point, as it may have an impact on the well-being of each individual. The living environment must meet the specific needs of each senior living with autism spectrum disorder, while remaining a place where the person feels good. Two interesting options may then be considered : taking advantage of adapted home care services or choosing to move to a seniors’ residence offering a positive living environment for your loved one.
In order to guide you through these important decisions, Visavie‘s senior living advisors are available to answer all of your questions. With attention, empathy, and a caring approach, our assistance will allow you to better understand the solutions that exist in the context of autism in seniors. This way, it will be easier to make sure that your loved one has the right to benefit from adapted care and services. All this with respect, and while evolving in a comfortable living environment.
Contact us now for a free consultation with one of our caring advisors !