Frontline Initiative Later Life Supports
A program supporting aging individuals with I/DD
The Schenectady County Chapter of NYSARC, Inc. is one of the largest not-for-profit service providers to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in the county. It serves the needs of over 1,000 individuals with I/DD. A majority of the people supported are over the age of 40. In addition, almost 90 participants have a diagnosis of Down syndrome. This is particularly important because people with Down syndrome tend to experience early onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. All of these factors led the agency to develop an Aging Committee. The goal of the committee has been to identify ways to meet these needs.
In response to recommendations from the Aging Committee, a day habilitation program was designed to serve older individuals with I/DD. This program was named Spring Hill. Spring Hill is an example of our agency’s efforts to adapt to the changing needs of the people we support. Many people in this program experience symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Spring Hill supports eight people who are served by DSPs who are trained in the unique needs of this aging population. The carefully designed space features contrasting colored walls, floors, fixtures and furniture. These elements help older adults with recognition, moving around, and memory recall. A living room area provides comfortable seating and an area for participants to enjoy television, movies and music from their past. Participants have their own individualized schedules. They also each have a personalized scrapbook. These scrapbooks contain pictures that help participants with orientation to particular locations and activities they enjoy.
Since opening Spring Hill in February 2007, the response from individuals, families and other providers has been overwhelming. Participants appear to enjoy setting their own pace. We notice that challenging behaviors have decreased. Spring Hill has been such a success that we opened Spring Hill 2 in February 2008 to provide more individuals with the benefits of this innovative program. Then in June 2012, we opened Spring Hill 3.
DSPs at Spring Hill receive specialized, intensive training on supporting individuals who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. They complete a sensitivity training to better understand the effects of aging and dementia. The training also promotes empathy for people experiencing age-related changes. Activities are geared toward helping participants maintain their skills and exercise their bodies and minds. In addition, all agency staff receive a half-day training on aging with I/DD.
Quarterly meetings are held for participants in Spring Hill to ensure that any changes are identified and addressed quickly. Involved agency staff complete a participant symptom checklist. In addition, members from our social work and psychology departments complete a one-on-one dementia assessment every 12 to 16 months to monitor symptoms and identify clinical needs. Specialized dementia support plans have also been developed to help staff understand changing behaviors and provide consistent, appropriate support.
One of the most important parts of the Spring Hill programs is the flexibility to meet the needs of the individuals. As individuals’ needs change, so does the program. Use of available space, type of support, and staffing are changed as needed. This is all part of our goal to ensure that participants’ needs are met in the best possible manner.