Autism in Older Adults

Introduction

Autism, also called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), affects individuals across all age groups. However, the attention is often focused on children and young adults. This has led to limited information on how autism affects older adults. Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder that affects an individual’s social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviour. This article provides more information on autism in older adults.

How Common Is Autism In Older Adults?

The prevalence of autism in older adults is unclear, but research indicates that autism does not go away with age. Recent studies suggest that autism is under-diagnosed in older adults, which can make it difficult to understand how common it is within the population. There is a need for more research on this topic to establish accurate data on the number of older adults with autism.

Challenges In Diagnosis Of Autism In Older Adults

Diagnosing autism in older adults is challenging due to various reasons. Often, their behavioural patterns are already established or camouflaged, making it difficult to identify ASD. Additionally, older adults may have other mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and dementia, and the symptoms may overlap with those of ASD, making diagnosis even more difficult.

Moreover, the diagnostic tools used for children and young people may not be applicable to older adults because such tools do not consider the changes that come with ageing. Older adults often have different life experiences, social backgrounds and communication needs, which must be factored in the diagnosis. It is therefore essential to have a comprehensive assessment of an older adult to get an accurate diagnosis.

Impact Of Ageing On Autism Symptoms

While autism is a lifelong condition, ageing can cause changes in its symptoms. For instance, older adults with autism may display new behaviours like social withdrawal or communication difficulties, especially when experiencing age-related health problems. Additionally, the sensory issues associated with autism may worsen or change with age, causing increased sensitivity to noise, light, and smell.

It is essential to note that older adults with autism are more predisposed to age-related health problems such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases due to their lifelong developmental condition. It means healthcare professionals should be aware of their unique healthcare needs, including mental health, to ensure overall wellness.

Treatment For Autism In Older Adults

Treatment for autism in older adults largely depends on individual needs. Autism treatment is behavioural-based, and older adults require specialist care with experienced staff who have an understanding of ASD. Professionals must develop a treatment plan that reflects an older individual’s unique needs to receive care that aligns with their specific needs.

Furthermore, older adults with autism may require accommodations in their living environment, including sensory-friendly spaces and early interventions. Communication training, which includes social and pragmatic interventions, may also benefit older adults with autism. It is important to note that autism is a developmental disorder that affects individuals across the lifespan, and older adults with autism have unique needs that require specialised care.

Conclusion

Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder that affects individuals across the age groups, and older adults with autism require specialised attention. As individuals age, the symptoms of autism may change, making diagnosis and treatment challenging. However, with experienced healthcare professionals and a comprehensive assessment, older adults with autism can have improved quality of life. There is a need for more research into older adults with autism to better understand their prevalence, diagnosis, and treatment needs.

FAQs

FAQs about Autism in Older Adults

1. Can Autism develop in older adults?

Yes, it is possible for adults to receive an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis later in life. In some cases, previous diagnoses of other conditions such as anxiety or depression may have masked ASD symptoms. Autism symptoms can also present differently in adults, so it is important for healthcare professionals to be aware of this possibility and conduct assessments accordingly.

2. How does aging affect individuals with Autism?

Aging can present additional challenges for individuals on the Autism spectrum, such as sensory processing difficulties, reduced independence, and the need for more support with daily living tasks. However, aging can also bring positive changes for some individuals, such as increased social skills and coping mechanisms developed over time.

3. What resources are available for older adults with Autism?

There are a variety of resources available for older adults with Autism, including support groups, specialized residential facilities and programs, and online resources such as forums and informational websites. It is also important for individuals with Autism to have a healthcare team that understands their unique needs and is equipped to provide appropriate care throughout their lifespan.


References

1. Barbosa, A. C., Carreira, L. M., Vicente, S. G., & Veríssimo, M. (2019). Autism Spectrum Disorder in Elderly Population: Prevalence and Diagnostic Challenges. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10, 744. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00744

2. Fombonne, E. (2009). Epidemiology of pervasive developmental disorders. Pediatric Research, 65(6), 591-598. https://doi.org/10.1203/pdr.0b013e31819e7203

3. Hategan, A., & Bourgeois, J. A. (2019). Aging with Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Emerging Public Health Problem. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 27(2), 167-175. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jagp.2018.08.015