Ageing and disability

How old age can affect disabled people.

Many disabled people retain good physical health into their 70s and beyond but eventually we all experience the effects of ageing. Physical and mental function can become impaired and it can become more difficult to perform simple tasks.

Types of ageing

  • primary ageing relates to changes brought about by increasing age
  • secondary ageing is changes caused by disease, illness or misuse of our bodies.

For those who have lived a lifetime with a physical impairment, the effects of ageing can become apparent earlier than expected.

Complications linked to disability can include:

  • nutritional problems
  • bowel or bladder dysfunction
  • increased joint and muscle stress.

Your mental health can play an important part in the ageing process. Depression is more common in people who have a lifelong disability, especially as access to health and therapy services drops off. Your mental health and coping strategies can also be affected by family attitudes towards disability.

Tips on coping with the effects of ageing and disability


  • A neurological rehabilitation team or physiotherapist can help with physical problems such as muscle tone and consider issues such as seating. Disabled adults can find it hard to access regular physiotherapy but it definitely helps.
  • An Occupational Therapist can help you to perform functional tasks more effectively or suggest specialist equipment. Alternatively there may be a Centre for Independent Living in your area where you can try equipment and get specialist advice.
  • If you find your speech is affected or changing, ask for a referral to a Speech and Language Therapist.
  • If you are experiencing depression or psychological difficulties, your doctor may be able to refer you for counselling or similar support therapies such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. You may find mindfulness courses and listening to relaxation tapes can reduce stress and help muscle relaxation.
  • Complementary therapies such as massage, reflexology and aromatherapy can help with muscle tone, relaxation and pain relief. Always consult a qualified and insured complementary therapist.


  • Look at sleep positions or systems which enable you to sleep in a  position to meet your individual needs. Something simple like a new mattress may help.
  • If possible, try to change position frequently during the day so that your muscles have regular changes in tone
  • Try to keep an open mind and try new activities. Explore new hobbies, doing something different can really be beneficial and lift your mood. 
  • Don’t push yourself all the time. Preserve your strength by using your wheelchair, power chair or walking device regularly. Explore the options.
  • Don’t over commit at work. Talk to your employer about reasonable adjustments to your work and workplace. Working two or three days a week compared to the usual five may prevent you becoming overstretched and tired.
  • Striving too hard can be counter-productive. Try to manage your condition and pain threshold.  Apart from medication, relaxation techniques can help as can massage, exercise and hydrotherapy.
  • Set small goals and don’t feel bad if you have to admit that some things are too much.
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