Aging can change the body in drastic ways—and some individuals are faced with these changes earlier than others. People with intellectual or developmental disabilities (ID/DD) are one example. Sometimes individuals with ID/DD experience a phenomenon called “accelerated aging” where they exhibit symptoms of aging in their 40s and 50s that are usually associated with seniors 20 to 30 years older. For instance, people with Downs Syndrome experience cataracts (30-68% of individuals) at rates 2 to 4 times higher than the general population (17%) past age 40. Despite these earlier manifestations of age, individuals with ID/DD are living longer just like other seniors.
In Massachusetts, 1 out of every 5 individuals served by the Department of Developmental Services is over 55. And this isn’t just an issue in the commonwealth: the number of adults over 60 living with ID/DD in the United States is projected to double from in 641,860 in 2000 to 1.2 million in 2030. Although older adults with ID/DD may face more challenges as they age, they want the same things all seniors do, including the ability to live independently, necessary support systems and opportunities to stay engaged in their own community.
Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly (JCHE) and Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JF&CS), who together are a runner-up awardee in Pioneer’s 2017 Better Government Competition, are working together to provide an aging-in-community option to individuals with ID/DD. Because traditional senior housing does not offer the requisite accommodations to meet the needs of older adults with ID/DD, many of these individuals have often had to resort to living in group homes or with family caregivers. These living situations lead to less access to transportation and other community services and thus exacerbate problems with isolation.
Founded in 1965, JCHE has been providing supportive, independent housing to low-income seniors in Massachusetts for over half a century. The organization provides a range of services to its 1200 residents including transportation, case management, and health services like onsite nurses. By partnering with JF&CS, JCHE hopes to provide the same aging in community option to individuals with ID/DD.
JF&CS is a human services agency that assists people of all ages and needs in Eastern and Central Massachusetts, including older adults and individuals with ID/DD. Because of their integrated approach to providing services to those in need, JF&CS is equipped to address the interrelated challenges presented by aging adults with ID/DD.
Ground zero for the JCHE and JF&CS initiative will be JCHE’s new affordable and accessible 61-unit senior housing building in Brighton. Older adults with ID/DD will be housed in a 5-unit suite designed with their needs in mind. Besides the services and amenities available to all JCHE housing tenants, including a fitness center, computer stations, art studio, and various activities, residents will receive individual support from the staff at JF&CS to guarantee their success in a community setting.
JCHE and JF&CS hope to provide older individuals with ID/DD nothing short of the gold standard of permanent, community housing. The implementation of suites in other JCHE buildings and the creation of a best practices handbook are the next steps in meeting the program’s ultimate goal of having their model replicated throughout the commonwealth.