University of Illinois at Chicago
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Social Relations of Older Adults with Intellectual Disabilities from a Life Course Perspective

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posted on 2017-10-22, 00:00 authored by Lieke van Heumen
Social relationships are important to how people define the quality of their lives and social well-being is of particular importance to older adults, who rate social relationships among the most important determinants of aging well. There is minimal knowledge of the views of older adults with intellectual disabilities as to how their social relations impact their well-being. This study explored how the social relations of older adults with intellectual disabilities develop and change throughout their life courses and how these adults experience their social relations as they age. Data collection consisted of in-depth qualitative interviews with 12 participants with intellectual disabilities age 50 and over and their key support persons. Social network maps were filled out for participants, and their life histories were recorded. A vertical timeline of key events in each individual life history served as a visual cue for each participant. Data analysis consisted of case-analysis and thematic analysis of the transcripts. The participants are closest to their sisters and female direct support staff who provide the bulk of supports to them. Participants have few relationships with people without disabilities other than staff and relatives. Four common themes emerged from the participants’ experiences with social convoys across their life courses: ‘Positive Impact of Social Convoys in Early and Mid-Life’, ‘Emotional Impact of Early and Mid-Life Transitions’, ‘Interpersonal Conflict across the Life Course’, and ‘(Be)Longing in Late Life’. Study findings indicate that supporting older adults with intellectual disabilities as they age in coping with age-associated losses needs precedence in support practices. Social network mapping and life history work are strategies that can support the social relations of this population and make person-centered future planning more effective.



Heller, Tamar


Disability and Human Development

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Committee Member

Parker Harris, Sarah Gill, Carol Grossman, Brian Harrison, Tracie Bigby, Christine van Schrojenstein Lantman - De Valk, Henny

Submitted date



  • en

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