We often think of children when we think of autism, and that’s largely because autism is a fairly new condition that’s only been regularly diagnosed since the 1970s. Studies concerning autism in aging adults are few and far between, but the latest research shows that as age increases, the severity of autism may also increase.
Aging adults with autism are more likely than young people to extract rules from certain situations, and they prefer more structure and to follow the same routines during a particular task, according to a study by the Autism Diagnostic Research Centre in Southampton, UK. As age increases, the study found, the severity of autism traits in communication, flexible thinking, and social situations also increases.
Aging Adults with Autism Have Better Coping Skills
Because many seniors with autism were diagnosed with the condition as adults, it’s likely that they’ve developed a range of coping skills and strategies to help them handle the difficulties autism presents. This is evident in studies that show that while aging adults may experience more severe symptoms, they perform better than their younger counterparts on some cognitive tests and do better with visual and shape tests.
Anxiety, Depression, and Autism in Aging Adults
Rates of depression and anxiety are high in both aging and young populations with autism. One-third of adults with autism report serious depression or anxiety, and these mental health issues are an important risk factor for developing memory and cognition problems. For aging adults with autism, monitoring mood and seeking treatment for anxiety and depression is essential for helping to prevent cognitive decline.
Anxiety and depression should also be a reason for healthcare professionals to look more closely for signs of autism in aging populations, according to a study by the University of Amsterdam that found 31 percent of adults between the ages of 60 and 90 who have depression also have symptoms of autism, compared with just six percent of older adults who don’t have depression.
A Loss of Independence
As older adults with become more dependent with age, this decline can be particularly traumatic, and it’s important for family members and caregivers to respect the need for self-determined routines and solitude. But at the same time, their social difficulties and communication challenges can leave them feeling more isolated and depressed.
The research concerning older adults and autism is in its infancy, but more and more studies are focusing on this area. The more information we have on autism and seniors, the better able we’ll be to help them adjust to the particular challenges they face as they lose independence and cope with the various aspects of aging.