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Caring for Older People with Autism

According to a 2018 report, approximately 135,000 people in Ontario have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Although autism is typically thought of as a condition associated with children and youth, there is no cure for it, so the person has to live with it their entire life, right into their vintage years.

As April is Autism Acceptance Month in Canada, we thought we’d provide a guide for family caregivers to help them support a loved one with autism at any age.

What is autism?

Autism is a developmental disability caused by differences in the affected person’s brain. They tend to think about and experience the world differently than most people and sometimes struggle with social communication and interaction. They may also display repetitive actions or interests and have their own unique ways of learning, moving, or paying attention. Some may have extra sensitivity to stimuli such as loud noises or bright lights.

Also, the condition has a very wide spectrum. Some with the condition may have an
intellectual disability, be nonverbal, or display challenging behaviours, requiring a significant level of care. However, others without an intellectual disability may be able to live independently and never be diagnosed at all.

Many older adults grew up in a time when autism was less understood and often left undiagnosed. Because the symptoms can widely vary and signs may look different between men and women, a late-in-life autism diagnosis can be difficult. Some potential signs in older people that might suggest autism are routine or repetitive behaviour, intense and obsessive interests, and challenges with social interaction.

If you suspect that your elderly loved one or another family member might have autism, talk to their doctor about your concerns so you can create an action plan together.

Caring for someone with autism

Acting as a family caregiver presents many challenges under normal circumstances. When autism is present, additional strategies are needed to provide ample support.

Here are some ideas on how to make caring for someone with autism easier for both you and your loved one:

Provide a steady routine

Some people with autism rely on structure and predictability to have a good day. Sudden changes or breaks in their routine might be challenging for them to process. Keep them on a steady routine as much as possible, including consistently scheduled mealtimes and daily activities.

Use precise language

Autism often affects how people communicate, so changing your way of speaking to an older person with the condition might be necessary. For example, asking, “Did you eat today?” might be too broad of a question. It might be more effective to ask something specific, such as, “What did you have for lunch?” Specific questions like this will increase the chance of getting the response you need.

Watch for behavioural changes

Older people with autism may have difficulty proactively telling you if they’re in pain, upset, hungry, or need something. You must rely on their visual cues that suggest something is wrong. For example, if the person seems more sullen than usual or shows signs of physical pain, ask them direct questions to get the information needed to determine a course of action.

Be mindful of sensitivities

Your older loved one may be sensitive to bright lights, loud noises, intense smells, and other excessive sensory inputs because of the way autism affects their brain, potentially triggering stress, panic, or other adverse reactions. You can create a comfortable environment for them by keeping things calm and quiet.

Seek out autism support groups

The challenges with social interaction that many people with autism face can lead to loneliness and isolation, which is not healthy for either of you. Connect with local in-person or online support groups for people on the autism spectrum and their caregivers for much-needed peer socializing. You’ll be able to ask questions of other caregivers and share knowledge to help support one another’s desire to provide quality care.

Hire experienced homecare services

You don’t have to do this alone. Hiring a personal support worker experienced with autism on a full-time, part-time, or respite basis can help you address the unique needs of your loved one. Plus, you’ll be able to take a break from your duties to relax and recharge with peace of mind that your loved one is in good hands.

When you’re ready to explore in-home care options, the care experts at CareHop are just a phone call away.

Quality in-home elder care services in Etobicoke, Mississauga, and Brampton

CareHop specializes in providing safe, professional, in-home elder care services to families that need support. Whether you need nursing care, PSW services, or personal services such as homemaking and meal preparation, personal care, activities, and casual companionship, we’ll help ensure your loved one gets all the professional support they need.

Contact us today for a free, no-obligation discussion to discover how we can help you with safe, cost-effective eldercare solutions.

About the Author

Michael Lu is the founder of CareHop. He started the business inspired by his Grandmother to look at ageing as a happy experience to bring sunshine into the homes of others.

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