Gina Shaw, Medical Writer
As more and more people with disabilities are living into old age, they're facing a host of new medical, economic, and social challenges that physicians and advocates for the disabled are just beginning to understand.
Thanks to a variety of medical advances, we are all living longer these days; but for people with disabilities, improvements in life expectancy have been particularly astonishing. Today, for the first time in history, the approximately 10-12 million people between the ages of 20 and 40 who have major disabling conditions can reasonably expect to live into their 60s, 70s, and 80s.
This phenomenon is "exciting and at the same time frightening," says Laura Mosqueda, MD, director of geriatrics at the University of California-Irvine Medical Center and the codirector of the federally-funded Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Aging with a Disability.
For example, physicians have for
some time been aware of a condition known as post-polio syndrome that causes
polio symptoms, like muscle weakness and deterioration, to return years
after the first onset of illness. "Now, we're starting to think there's
almost a 'post-everything syndrome' with many of these disabling conditions,"
says Dr. Mosqueda. She points to people with cerebral palsy and spinal
cord injury, and those who are years poststroke, who experience similar
late-onset muscle weakness. "One of the thoughts with postpolio is that
it's a result of overuse. The muscles that aren't disabled get overstrained
over time," she says. "Similarly, with things like CP [cerebral palsy]
and spinal cord injury, the joints are having mechanical forces applied
to them that they weren't designed for. You do that for 20, 30, or 40 years
and you can imagine that people are wearing out their joints early."
Conserve It To Preserve It
Tips for Long Term
If you have a disability, what sort
of long-term plans should you be making? Dr. Mosqueda offers a few tips.
To learn more, check out the Center's Web site at http://www.agingwithdisability.org.
Gina Shaw is a freelance medical writer based in Washington DC.
Reviewer: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Reviewed for medical accuracy by physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Harvard Medical School. BIDMC does not endorse any products or services advertised on this Web site.
Source: Medscape Health
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