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'Aging with Developmental Disabilities' Topic of Ithaca College Gerontology Institute Speaker

ITHACA, NY — “People with developmental disabilities are living longer, and 25 percent of those people are living at home with a family caregiver 60 years or older,” said Elizabeth Perkins, research assistant professor and health coordinator at the Florida Center for Inclusive Communities. “What happens when aging parents develop their own medical and cognitive issues? Who will assume caregiving for them and their disabled children?”

Perkins will explore this growing concern on Monday, Feb. 11, when she visits Ithaca College to give a talk, “The Known and Unknown of Aging with Developmental Disabilities.” Free and open to the public, Perkins’s presentation will begin at 7 p.m. in Emerson Suites, Phillips Hall. The event is part of the Ithaca College Gerontology Institute’s Distinguished Speaker Series.

“There is a startling under-recognition of the challenges encountered by aging people with developmental disabilities and their caregivers to ensure a good quality of life as they both age,” said Perkins. “But with careful planning and thoughtful supports, many people with developmental disabilities can, and do, age successfully.”

Specific focus on the aging caregivers population is crucial due to the lifelong support needs of their care recipients, Perkins adds, citing studies published in the “American Association on Intellectual and Development Disabilities” and other journals to prove her point:

  • In 2000, there were an estimated 640,000 adults aged 60 and older with an intellectual/developmental disability. This figure is expected to double by 2030.
  • Around 88 percent of adults with developmental disabilities currently live with their family caregiver (60 percent), their spouse (15 percent), or independently with support (14 percent), while just 11 percent live in a formally staffed residential or healthcare facility.
  • Better medical care has led to increasing life expectancies of people aging with developmental disabilities. Unfortunately, across their lifespans, they are at risk for more secondary health-related conditions such as epilepsy and osteoporosis, so their aging processes can be complicated by both lifelong and newly emergent chronic health issues.
  • Furthermore, different types of developmental disability including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy can be associated with specific aging-related issues, so there is great diversity of the aging experience with this population, much more so than the aging population without developmental disabilities.

In addition to a doctorate in aging studies from the University of South Florida, Perkins is a certified registered nurse for the mentally handicapped in the United Kingdom, where she trained in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities. Her clinical experiences there were predominantly in geriatric and residential care.

Her current areas of interest include medical aspects of aging with intellectual and developmental disabilities, quality-of-life issues of older family caregivers of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and compound caregiving (when older caregivers have multiple caregiving roles).

Perkins’s research has been published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” (JAMA) and other prominent peer-reviewed publications. She is also a coauthor of the fifth edition of “Physical Changes and Aging: A Guide for the Helping Professions,” a widely respected gerontology textbook published in 2011.

Perkins’s talk is presented in partnership with Franziska Racker Centers; the Finger Lakes Independence Center; Ithaca College Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; and the Program in Aging and Developmental Disabilities, Finger Lakes Geriatric Education Center, University of Rochester Medical Center.

Individuals with disabilities requiring accommodation for this event should contact the Gerontology Institute at (607) 274-1607 or as much in advance of the event as possible. For more information on the Gerontology Institute, visit