A recent systematic review was conducted to provide an overview of available psychosocial interventions for older people with intellectual disabilities to optimise support for this growing population.

The study published in Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities (JARID) looked at how the early onset and complexity of the ageing process result in changes to the support needs of people with intellectual disabilities as they grow older.

This poses new challenges for older people with intellectual disabilities and their families as well as support staff and healthcare organisations.

The study said the ageing process is different for older people with intellectual disabilities as their lifelong disabilities place them at increased risk of developing age-related deficiencies (e.g. multiple chronic health impairments, including cardiovascular and respiratory issues) at a relatively young age. 

Furthermore, the occurrence of psychotic disorders is 10 times higher for older people with intellectual disabilities, who are also more likely to experience dementia, personality disorders, anxiety and mood disorders, as compared to the general population.

The review identified 36 studies that included interventions aimed at either identifying and meeting the needs or perceptions of older individuals or at improving their behaviour and skills.

Person-centred care

The results of this review, suggest that various aspects of person-centred care have since been adopted within the context of psychosocial care and support for older people with intellectual disabilities. The emergence of person-centred interventions that address the psychosocial support needs of older people may help caregivers to broaden the focus of their practice, which may tend to over-emphasise the medical aspects of care.

It also identified 19 studies aimed at improving the behaviour and skills of older people with intellectual disabilities. Although these studies were generally not designed specifically for older people, the participant groups did include older people.

The interventions within this theme focused largely on teaching self-care or other skills, in order to enhance independence and social skills, while promoting problem-solving abilities, coping skills for dealing with anxiety or chronic pain and behavioural treatments aimed at decreasing inappropriate behaviour.

The researchers concluded that in scientific databases, relatively few psychosocial interventions are available for support staff members to apply directly in their daily work with older people with intellectual disabilities, which implies that they have little choice and opportunities to work with psychosocial interventions.

Future studies should therefore focus on developing and strengthening the theoretical base of integrative psychosocial interventions that involve support staff in an executive role. Support staff should ideally receive training in order to increase their relevant knowledge and skills in advance, thereby ensuring that they will be able to carry out the intervention appropriately