Service providers’ perceptions show support for approaches to active ageing amongst older people with learning disabilities


People with learning disabilities are living longer. The Royal College of Nursing website  suggests that over the course of the last century, life expectancy for this group has increased significantly, with mean life expectancy estimated to be 74, 67 and 58 for those with mild, moderate and severe learning disabilities respectively.

The researchers in this Australian study were interested in looking at the issue of active ageing amongst older people with learning disabilities and in particular approaches promoting active ageing among this group.

They carried out a series of semi-structured interviews with 16 professional direct-care support staff focusing on their perceptions of ageing among older adults with learning disabilities. They asked what active ageing might mean for such individuals, asking them to think about people they currently supported as well as project forward to think about older people with learning disabilities supported in the future.

They analysed the data using a framework developed from the six core World Health Organization active ageing outcomes for people with learning disabilities.

What they found was that the professionals they interviewed were focused encouraging active ageing among their clients. They did find however, that active ageing principles might need to be applied in ways that considered and responded to individual and diverse needs. The staff interviewed were particularly concerned to deal sensitively and actively with people moving from day services, employment or voluntary work to reduced activity, and finally to facilities to support older people.

They conclude that direct-care staff of older adults with learning disabilities will have a key role in encouraging and facilitating active ageing, and also informing the development of policy and strategies to ensure appropriate care for this diverse group as they proceed to old age.

Service providers’ perceptions of active ageing among older adults with lifelong intellectual disabilities, Buys, L. et al in Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 56: 1133–1147

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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