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Supporting Senior Athletes - Aging and Decline
Building confidence and maintaining health
Seth M. Keller, MD
Past President AADMD
Special Olympics has been the home for many with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) who love to be engaged in athletics, as well as the friendships, and acceptance that go along with the events. The joy and excitement which shows on the athletes face when they are surrounded by families, friends, and the other athletes is inspiring. Special Olympics enable those with I/DD to be able to perform in various events despite their level of disability. The Health Athletes program including MedFest screens and monitors the athletes so that health promotion and safety are secure. The aging process does not forgive anyone including those with I/DD. While the aging process brings significant changes to all individuals and their families, these changes are often intensified by the presence of a developmental disability. There can be dramatic reduction in vision, hearing, balance, strength, coordination, and memory which will have a significant impact upon the individual’s ability to function in routine daily life activities and therefore affect the person’s quality of life.
The severity and degree of any of the physical changes that occur may be unique and specific to the individual however, certain I/DD syndromes such as Down syndrome are predisposed to developing early onset hearing loss, cervical spine disease, heart disease as well as early onset dementia. The Special Olympic athlete who is aging may begin to have more difficulties with aspects of exercise and participating in the sporting event which can lead to increase risk of injury, poor performance with frustration and ultimately retiring from the games altogether.
The Administration on Aging (AoA) as well as the National Institute on Aging at NIH have developed recommendations that promote physical exercise and health promotion activities to those who are aging in an effort to improve their long term Quality of Life. Special Olympics is in a wonderful position to also create an awareness campaign within their Health Communities program as well as within the structure of Healthy Athletes and sporting events to help and enable the aging athlete to live a longer healthier life. Here is a link to the program at the National Institute of Aging http://go4life.nia.nih.gov/
Specific recommendations and evaluations would need to be done for the athlete to look for some of the changes that may occur to them as they age. The “Senior Athletes” Program would then tailor the health promotion and sporting activities to fit the abilities of the aging athlete as well as to follow them and make adjustments and recommendations if further decline and changes occur.
This webinar was presented to Special Olympics Alaska on Thursday Nov 13, 2014 in an effort to bring further attention to this issue as well as to help create momentum in focusing on the development of a Senior athletes program.