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Recognizing LDs in Senior Citizens

What Are Learning Disabilities Like for Senior Citizens


Updated September 05, 2011

There is a strong possibility that many senior citizens with learning disabilities are not aware they have a disability. This is because they attended school before special education programs existed. It is likely they were seen as slow learners, lacking in ability, or perhaps even lazy in a national school system that was largely unaware of learning disabilities.

Public schools before special education were typically rigid institutions with little flexibility in organization, rules, and instructional practices. At the time, this was considered the best and most efficient way to educate children. It was orderly and easily managed from an administrative standpoint.

Most teachers instructed with what we now call the "spray and pray" method. They taught with this "one size fits all" approach that targeted students of average abilities. Instruction was typically lecture style, with teachers talking to students about the subject matter. Students learned mostly from textbooks with few other classroom resources such as video or audio. Students who struggled performed poorly, and many were underachievers. Sadly, many learned to view themselves incapable of learning, when in fact, they would have fared much better with appropriate educational services.

When today's senior citizens with learning disabilities attended public schools, there were no special education programs. As a result, few were ever diagnosed with a learning disability. Because there was no formal standard for teaching struggling learners, whether or not a student received help depended on the responsiveness of the teacher.

Few of these students graduated from high school or continued into postsecondary education. As a result, many adults with learning disabilities were never diagnosed and did not receive appropriate instruction for their disabilities. Many dropped out and went to work. Others went to war.

Despite their difficulties in school, this generation was among the most productive and resourceful in adult life because of their experiences during the Great Depression and the demands of life during that time period.

How did they cope with their disabilities in adult life? This generation's lifestyle was built on self-reliance. Many coped by:

  • Taking jobs in industries where their disabilities were not likely to affect their performance.
  • Using survival skills learned from their resourceful parents during some of our nation's most difficult times.
  • Living a largely self-sufficient lifestyle.
  • Learning skills and trades through work experience, the original hands-on, multisensory teaching method.
  • Getting important information from television and radio, rather than print.
  • Growing, processing, and preserving their own foods.
  • Making their own clothing - not the modern way with store bought patterns and costly notions. They made their own using newspaper cutouts or simply measuring based on know-how passed down from their parents.
  • Being frugal. Most strove to live beneath their means and believed strongly in saving for the future in case of crisis.

Elderly Adults with Learning Disabilities - Struggles in Adult Life

  • Difficulty processing information quickly. In places such as a doctor's office, the pharmacy, or even the checkout lane, seniors with learning disabilities may have difficulty processing information quickly and may be reluctant to ask for assistance.
  • Problems managing money. Seniors with learning disabilities in basic or applied math may need assistance with balancing a checkbook, managing a debit card, paying bills, or solving math problems such as deciding on the best economic choices.
  • Low retirement income because of having low paying jobs during their working career.
  • Problems understanding and managing complex health care needs and the bureaucracy of Medicare.
  • Difficulty managing complex health care need
  • Risk for being victimized by fraud. While all senior citizens should be on the lookout for possible fraud, those with learning disabilities may need more support than most. This is especially true if they must rely on others to help them manage their financial affairs.

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