Date of Award

Summer 7-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Dr. Susan Isenberg

Second Advisor

Dr. John Henschke

Third Advisor

Dr. Marilyn Patterson


This qualitative case study explored the ways in which older adults with developmental disabilities (DD) learn to successfully age in place. As more persons with DD reach old age and outlive their natural caretakers, such as parents, it is becoming apparent that there are a multitude of age-related challenges and educational needs that must be addressed. However, information pertaining to the unique learning needs of older adults with DD is scarce. Andragogy (the art and science of teaching adults) and geragogy (teaching the elderly) provided the theoretical frameworks for this study. The main research question in this study was: How are older adults with DD unique adult learners? To answer this question, the primary investigator (PI) conducted a qualitative study exploring the ways in which older adults enrolled in the Association on Aging with Developmental Disabilities (AADD) programs and services for seniors learned to successfully age in place. The PI conducted observations, focus groups, in-depth interviews, and an email questionnaire with a sample of AADD program participants, staff, and board members. Verbatim transcriptions of the interviews and focus group sessions were analyzed using open and axial coding methods. The following 11 themes emerged from the data: respect and equality, individualization, humor and fun, age-related learning challenges, social support, accumulation of loss, active aging and health maintenance, independence and autonomy, identity, attitudes towards those aging with DD, and learning strategies. The results provided evidence of the application of andragogy in meeting the unique learning needs of older adults with DD, as well as the premise that independent learning leads to independent living. Participants stressed the need for learning to be highly individualized iii and fun. The importance of strong social support systems to help offset myriad age related challenges faced by older adults with DD were also evidenced. Further exploration of educational programs designed to address emerging learning needs of those aging with DD, such as reverse caregiving roles (e.g., assuming the responsibility of primary caregiver for an elderly parent), as well as the application of andragogy to other aging with DD programs and services is warranted.


Copyright 2015