Leader of program to support aging IDD individuals details its success and plans to extend it

At the Aging Texas Well Advisory Committee (ATWAC) meeting on Wednesday, health and wellness coordinator for Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities (IDD) Services at the Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) Antonio Martinez, Jr., gave a special topic presentation about the recently implemented “Support & Empowerment Program for Older Adults with IDD & their Caregivers.”

 

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The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the number of adults with IDD over the age of 60 was around 850,000 in 2010, and this population is projected to reach 1.4 million by 2030. AACOG and the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD) partnered together to implement the program in order to provide the community supports that are needed for these older adults with IDD and their caregivers and to identify any of their unmet needs.

The TCDD granted the program to the IDD Services Department in May 2019, and has largely served as a pilot program for local intellectual and developmental disability authorities (LIDDAs) across the state.

Martinez said the program’s ultimate goals are to provide comprehensive education to people with IDD and their caregivers about what it’s like to age with IDD, identify gaps in the community to support those individuals, and create a self-sustainable model for the program that can continue past its five-year grant.

“Hopefully, in the near future, once this five-year grant is done, I hope to leave behind an online resource library of these videos and other partnerships we’ve made along the way of other physicians across the nation to really have an [all-accessible] platform for the IDD community.”

Martinez emphasized the person-centered approach of the program, saying its requirements and qualifications always meet the individualized needs of each person in the program, especially in the qualification of their caregiver.

“We really take a person-centered approach to qualify somebody as a caregiver. So if the individual sees this individual, case manager [or] family member … as a caregiver, we’re going to qualify them as a caregiver.”

The program offers free health and wellness classes that are meant to be taken by both the individual and their caregiver, with translation services available including Braille Grade 2. Classes range from topics such as nutritional and physical fitness to finance. Martinez particularly expressed enthusiasm about the spirituality classes offered.

“[These classes offer] spirituality in the sense of finding your belonging in the community … we’re really focusing on the individual finding their place … whether it’s [a] self-advocacy group, or if it is going to the gym, or going to the public library, whatever it may be. Wherever they find that sense of belonging within their community.”

Martinez said gaining participants for support programs like this has historically been difficult. 

“Unfortunately, a lot of the times [with] some of the older adults … Mom, Dad, Grandma, whoever is taking care of them … they’re still in that old-time phase [where] they are very in denial of their son or daughter having a disability. And that’s something that we really need to be aware of is that at the time that they were growing up, a lot of these individuals were either just medicated or tossed into the state’s hospitals. And so now, that reluctancy is still there, and it’s hard for them to come out and reach for help and trust a government agency.”

Martinez also mentioned the challenges brought on with the program’s switch to virtual learning with the onset of the pandemic, noting that attendance had significantly gone down. He said both students and caregivers struggled to adapt to the new platform. 

Another point of emphasis in the Support & Empowerment Program is data collection. Surveys are given to individuals and caregivers concerning their quality of life and social determinants of health so that IDD Services can make sure they are getting the support they need during the time in the program. 

In response to feedback from the surveys, classes have been shortened, the new curriculum will be completely 508-accessible, and Martinez said he was also working on translating the curriculum into more simplified language. The data collected through these surveys would also be used to work toward policy changes in Texas for aging individuals with IDD. 

Martinez also highlighted the major growth of the program from its original conception. While it had originally only provided services for Bexar County, it now accepts participants from the entire state. Additionally, in August 2021, the program received a National Association of Developmental Organization (NADO) Impact award, which recognized the IDD health and wellness program for having made significant advancements to economic development and improvements to patients’ quality of life.