Ageing in people with autistic spectrum disorder

Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2012 Feb;27(2):109-18. doi: 10.1002/gps.2711. Epub 2011 Apr 27.


Background: Although autism in children and in adults attracts attention with respect to clinical and research needs, autism in the older individuals has not been considered to any degree. We review the evidence for urgently addressing the question of ageing in people with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), focusing on those with disability.

Methods: Perspectives are reviewed in relation to demographics, experiences of relatives or carers, anticipated residential care needs, requirement for specifically designed cognitive assessment tools and importance of initiating new brain ageing research initiatives in this area.

Results: With escalating numbers of ASD individuals with disability reaching old age, provision of care is the paramount issue that is only beginning to be addressed in a few European communities and in the USA. How ageing affects cognition in such individuals as they reach an age no longer consistent with parental care is unknown, lacking any published evidence, and there is a clear need to design cognitive and behavioural assessment tools appropriate to ageing in ASD individuals with disability, as was the case with respect to dementia as a whole. Although there is a growing body of evidence on pathological, imaging, neuropharmacological and other key brain abnormalities in ASD, these are, to date, confined to children and young (only rarely to middle aged) adults.

Conclusions: The need for new initiatives in research into ageing in ASD is urgent. Apart from a growing care crisis, the prospect of understanding brain ageing in this population may bring potential rewards beyond immediate clinical need given the precedent of Down syndrome.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aging*
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans