Symposium tackles aging among developmentally disabled population

The challenges faced by adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities – chronicled in the documentary “The Space Between Limits” – is an often invisible struggle. Out of sight to most people, but as this population ages, it faces unique circumstances, which was the focus of a symposium presented by South Orange-based Jespy House, a private, nonprofit that helps advance independence for people with IDD.

“Our clients present with age-related challenges decades earlier than the traditional population, so we’re seeing that in 45- and 50-year-olds,” said Jespy House Executive Director Audrey Winkler. “Physical aging, osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes, all of the age-related challenges that we typically see in the population, we see it earlier and we have 100 clients that are in that situation.”

And that means regular medications and other treatment, which puts another burden on a population already marginalized and struggling for support and acceptance from their families and the rest of us.

The symposium, “Aging in Place,” brought together families, caregivers and medical professionals, all focused on making the already difficult aging process less stressful and painful.

“This is the first time in history that in the next 10 years there’ll be over 1 million adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities reaching their senior years,” added Tara Roberts, Jespy House’s marketing and community relations supervisor.

Experts discussed strategies for service providers on everything from building age-friendly communities to lobbying lawmakers, and for families on home modifications and finding the right doctors.

Jill Terbell has been a Jespy House client since 1988. She’s been a clerk for Prudential in Roseland for over a decade and is now a volunteer for Jespy, which helped her build a supportive network as she ages.

Asked what life would be like without those friends, she replied, “I don’t know. I don’t know what I would do because they’re all my friends. I’ve had friends in the past and they didn’t want anything to do with me, and when I came to Jespy I made a whole bunch of new friends and they like me and I like them.”

Debbie Davidson works for a title agency and says the job is a lifesaver, not only because it helps her make a buck but because it gives her access to friends and community, which she says she couldn’t live without.

“Oh, it would be horrible,” she says. “I’d probably live with one of my siblings. I don’t know if I’d have a job. I’d probably just be sitting home or going to a day program and I’d be bored because I couldn’t be with friends and I’d probably be alone most of the time. And it’s not a life that I would want and I wouldn’t want that for anybody else.”

And that’s the goal, making life – which is difficult enough for even the luckiest of us – a little bit easier and fuller.