Posted: January 6, 2023

Accommodating Older Adults with Disabilities

As the population ages, some older adults are choosing to move into assisted living communities to receive help with activities of daily living and have access to social and recreational activities. For many older adults with disabilities, assisted living facilities can provide a much-needed respite from the challenges of living independently and can offer a sense of community and support. However, it is important for these facilities to be equipped to accommodate the unique needs of older adults with disabilities in order to ensure they are able to fully participate in, and benefit from, the services and activities offered. 


Below are tips for caring for older adults with disabilities in Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly (RCFEs). 


Understand an individual’s needs

It is important to understand an individual’s specific needs and preferences. An effective way to do this is to involve the older adult in their own decision-making process. This can ensure that their preferences are taken into consideration when developing plans and policies for their care. It is also helpful to involve family members and other caregivers in this process, as they can provide valuable insights and support for the older adult, as well as healthcare providers and other professionals, to understand their physical, emotional, and social needs. 


Create an accessible physical environment

RCFEs should be designed to meet the needs of older adults with disabilities. This includes features such as wheelchair ramps, handrails, and grab bars in bathrooms, as well as doorways and hallways that are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and other mobility devices. It may also be necessary to make modifications to individual living spaces, such as installing lower countertops and cabinets or adding additional lighting, to help individuals with vision impairments. Similarly, social space accessibility should be optimized for interaction between people with and without mobile aids, such as wheelchairs.1 Lastly, transportation needs should be coordinated so older adults with disabilities have the capacity to get to other places, such as medical appointments.  


At Choose Well member facility, Casa Verdugo, Administrator Natalia Verdugo shared that they are licensed to provide care for residents with disabilities. Their facility has wide, 36-inch doorways and sliding doors in all resident rooms that lead to the outside patio. This allows for residents in wheelchairs to comfortably move around the facility and easily access the outside directly from their private bedrooms. Casa Verdugo is also located within two minutes of a fire station, where paramedics can arrive quickly for emergencies. 


Encourage independence 

Older adults with disabilities benefit from encouragement to do as much for themselves as possible. The use of assistive technology and other resources can help these individuals maintain their independence and quality of life. This may include devices such as hearing aids, mobility aids, and communication devices, as well as specialized software and apps that can assist with tasks, such as reading and writing. 


Consider emotional needs

Caring for older adults with disabilities can be emotionally challenging, both for the individual and their caregivers. Providing emotional support and encouraging open communication about any concerns or issues is helpful for older adults, who can feel like they are a burden to others. This includes additional support and assistance with daily tasks such as bathing, dressing, and medication management. It is also important to provide increased opportunities for specialized activities and programming that are tailored to needs and interests, such as art classes or group outings.  


Provide regular health and wellness check-ins

Older adults with disabilities may require more frequent health check-ins and monitoring. This may involve working with healthcare providers to develop a care plan and ensuring that medications are taken as prescribed. If possible, on-site physical therapy and occupational therapist visits can benefit low-mobility individuals and provide relief from pain and mobile limitations.2


Since Casa Verdugo provides hospice care, residents have access to nurses 24/7. This access to medical care creates a safe environment for residents with disabilities, who can feel at ease knowing their health is prioritized. 


Accommodating older adults with disabilities in assisted living facilities requires a proactive and individualized approach that takes into account the unique needs and preferences of each individual. By ensuring that the physical environment is accessible, encouraging independence, considering social and emotional needs, and providing regular health check-ins, RCFEs can create a supportive and welcoming environment that promotes the well-being and independence of older adults with disabilities.