Frontline Initiative Later Life Supports

Bridging the aging and I/DD service networks

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and older adults are experiencing a changing landscape in their service systems. Important historical legislation has authorized federal agencies to work to improve the service systems throughout the United States. Recent federal reforms emphasize a strong focus on initiatives that promote community living. It is now a priority for the national aging and disability networks to bridge services and collaborate. 

Direct support professionals (DSPs) assist individuals to live quality lives in the community. Therefore, it is necessary they understand the policies that will affect services for the people they support. From this article, DSPs can learn about new policy initiatives that are transforming service systems and community living. This article provides excerpts from a recent report by Alan Factor, Tamar Heller, and Matt Janicki from the University of Illinois Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Aging with Developmental Disabilities.

Excerpts from the article

Launched in 2003, the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) initiative is a joint effort of the Administration on Aging (AoA) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Aging and Disability Resource Centers bridge the aging and disabilities service networks by establishing local “one-stop shops” that streamline access to long-term services and supports for older persons and younger people with disabilities.

ADRCs are required to serve adults 60 years of age and older and at least one other target population of younger individuals with disabilities. The intent is to have an ADRC in all states and eventually these will also serve younger people with physical disabilities, developmental disabilities, and persistent and severe mental illness.

Although the ADRC program has been operating for eight years, only a handful of states targeted people with developmental disabilities as the primary disability group their ADRCs serve. Most states chose to serve people with physical disabilities through their ADRCs. AoA is positioning ADRCs to play a key role in linking people to the expanded long-term supports and services that will be provided under the Affordable Care Act. This report examines the facilitators and barriers to bridging the aging and developmental disabilities service networks and provides recommendations for improving access to long-terms services and supports for people with developmental disabilities and their families. The following are (a selection of) key findings of this project —

  • People aging with developmental disabilities and their families have unmet needs for health and long-term supports that will continue to grow as the population ages.

  • There has been limited and short-term success in bridging the aging and DD service networks, despite many attempts to do so at the federal, state, and local levels.

  • The concerns and issues of adults with developmental disabilities are often unrepresented in planning and implementation of health and long-term care reform initiatives.   


This time of dramatic policy change provides an opening for agencies to improve efficiency and coordination to better serve people with developmental disabilities and their families. The present project recommends four overarching goals —

  1. Raise the visibility of developmental disabilities concerns in policy reforms.

  2. Improve program implementation of health and long-term support initiatives to better address needs of persons with developmental disabilities.

  3. Develop a workforce with knowledge and skills to address disability and aging issues.

  4. Better understand the age-related needs and best practices in meeting those needs through research and evaluation.

Excerpts adapted with permission from Factor, A., Heller, T., & Janicki, M. (2012). Bridging the aging and developmental disabilities service networks: Challenges and best practices. Chicago: Institute on Disability and Human Development, University of Illinois at Chicago.