'Grace Project' helps aging disabled population

August 28, 2011 7:20:49 AM PDT
Many agencies working with people with disabilities are facing a new challenge: they must accommodate the aging developmental disabilities population.

The Baby Boomer generation is hitting their senior years. Medical advancement and quality of services have made it possible for this population to live longer, and local, not-for-project organizations have come together to develop plans.

Clearbrook in Rolling Meadows is one of the agencies involved in the Grace Project.

"The Grace Project stands for Generating Resources for Aging through Collaborative Energies. I'm the project director and Clearbrook is the leading agency, and we're collaborating with five other agencies," said Susan Kaufman, vice president of children and adult services.

"What we know now is that there are quite changes in the aging process, and people slow down," said Kaufman. "We saw that our regular services just didn't meet their needs anymore, and we also saw that our staff didn't understand all the changes that were taking place in our clients. And so they needed also some enhanced staff training and an understanding of this issue."

People with disabilities are faced with the same aging challenges that people without disabilities.

"We see dementia, senility, Alzheimer's, as you do in the regular population as well, but we are also see people have more mobility problems. They have sensory problems as they age because many of our folks are nonverbal, and they don't communicate verbally that they can't tell the staff what's going on," Kaufman said.

Don Aylward's 71-year-old sister, Charlotte, is one of Clearbrook's clients.

"They're trained to do what they do, but they do what they do out of love, and out of, you know, education. They're professionals at what they do. They know more about Charlotte's needs and concerns more than we do," said Aylward.

Director of Developmental Training David Boggs says they are learning how to modify their programs.

"There are things that are very similar to what we do in our other programs, but what we do is we take our activities and we adapt them specifically for folks that are aging. For instance, we offer things with more visual support for people starting to lose their eye sight. Some activities might not be quite as strenuous when we do exercise," Boggs said.

"I mean, this is an international issue right now that we're seeing this population of people with developmental disabilities age. And they're in their 70s and 80s now and have multiple challenges," said Kaufman.

"The long-term goal is to find the very best way we can serve folks with disabilities as they age, the best methods, the best activities and to just really try to maximize the value of their love," said Boggs.

To learn about the Grace Project and the agencies involved go to ABC7 Chicago

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