Autism Spectrum Disorders in Older Adults: Toward Defining a Research Agenda

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
Year Published: 

Relatively little is known about older adults with autism spectrum disorder – few studies have been done to determine how behaviors and symptoms change over time, how aging may impact people with ASD differently, and whether findings in children and young adults with ASD generalize to the older adult population. Based on current estimates, by 2030 there will be approximately 700,000 adults with ASD over the age of 65. Much work must be done to identify the unique service needs of this group and ensure that adequate long-term care options exist. To address the lack of knowledge about older adults with ASD, a multidisciplinary group convened in March 2010 to begin defining a research agenda to address the needs of the population. The group defined six research priorities, the first of which was the need for diagnostic criteria and instruments to identify individuals based on adult symptom profiles. Based on findings from a recent study in England, rates of autism appear to be relatively similar across generations suggesting that there is a large group of older adults with ASD who have gone undiagnosed. Second, the group noted the need for studies characterizing symptoms, behaviors, and co-occurring conditions in adults, as well as available services and supports. Other priorities include the need for longitudinal research to study lifespan trajectories, neurobiological research to study how the autistic brain ages, and studies of different types of interventions for use with older adults on the spectrum. Finally, the group indentified the need to support training that would attract young researchers and clinicians to the emerging field of aging and autism. These proposed priorities should begin to answer questions about autism and aging in an effort to address individual needs and gauge its potential impact on the healthcare system and society.

--IACC 2011 Summary of Advances in ASD Research