Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.
–  Helen Keller

May 2019, Volume 29

Trauma-Informed Care
and Older Persons with Disabilities


In recent years we have come to realize that trauma is prevalent throughout society in people of all abilities, ages, races, genders, and socioeconomic positions. We have also come to know that trauma is even more pervasive in particular populations where individuals struggle with special needs or have been segregated in some way.

The more vulnerable the people, the more likely they are to have experienced trauma. People who need assistance with the more intimate of tasks, such as bathing and toileting are often the targets of predatory individuals.

In the past, children with disabilities were often placed into institutions by their parents at the urging of doctors and other "professionals." This led to a lifetime of being raised in an environment with little to no individual attention paid to them. The horrors of places like Willowbrook have been exposed over the years, and a move toward de-institutionalization began in the mid-1960s and 1970s. However, for the thousands of people who lived in these institutions, their lives are affected to this day by what happened decades ago.

Many of the most common challenging actions and characteristics exhibited by people who have experienced institutional trauma fit into the following three categories.

Self-soothing activities - also known as "stimming": These can include finger-sucking; hair-twisting; full-body rocking; body spinning; touching self and objects, and more. These repetitive movements were learned during a time of understimulation as a means of coping. Understanding the motivation for these actions will help caregivers and providers increase their patience and empathy.

Defensive and hyper-vigilant activities:  These can include taking food from others; various phobias; hyperactivity; sleep disturbances; being defiant or confrontational; resistance to being touched; separation anxiety; clinginess; overactive startle response; obsessions with things; and more. Some of these actions result from deprivation and a lack of interaction with people. Some result from the person's attempt to have some control over his or her life - or from a lack of understanding of what is going on around him or her.
Self-preserving activities: These may have been learned by watching others in the institutional setting. They can include an overconfident sense of entitlement; aggression; intimidation; lying; or bullying. Often these will accompany a lack of social skills.
Research about trauma, institutionalization, abandonment, and abuse all indicate that many older people who lived in an institutionalized setting struggle with sensory integration issues - usually due to diminished sensory input, lack of stimulation, and minimal interaction between caretakers and the people they are caring for. Sensory disorganization can cause problems with communication, movement, eating, sleeping, self-care, and more. 

Fortunately, our brains are adaptable at all ages and even in our older years it is possible to make changes and help address past trauma issues. Educating staff on the effects of trauma is essential for understanding and proper treatment.

Treating a person with compassion, empathy, and understanding is the first step in helping them to heal from their past trauma. Incorporating appropriate interventions, including sensory integration therapy, will help calm and heal the brain and body and assist the person in returning to a state of regulation when he or she is upset. An evaluation by an occupational therapist trained in sensory issues can generate suggestions for simple environmental modifications which can address many of the person's needs.
Understanding trauma and its impacts will help us create and develop the supports that older people need to overcome past hardships and live healthy lives.

May is Flower Month and National Strawberry Month!
Did you know: strawberries are a member of the rose family?

Enjoy fresh strawberries or strawberry shortcake while making the paper flower craft.

  1. Take one sheet of tissue paper and fold it in half, then fold it in half again. Cut the piece so that you have a 10" square.
  2. Starting at one edge, fold all the layers over about one-half inch. Flip tissue paper over and fold it back on the other side. Continue to fold this way, alternating sides, so you have an accordion fold. 
  3. Fold the accordion-folded tissue paper in half. If desired, cut the ends rounded or in a point. Wrap and secure and chenille stem around the stack with one end. The remaining chenille stem will be the stem for the flower. 
  4. While holding your stem, gently open up the flower accordion. Start by gently pulling the top layer straight up towards the middle, while holding the other layers and gently pulling them down. Repeat with each layer until you have one half of the flower done. Repeat for the other half of the flower.
  5. Fluff the flower with your fingers once all of the tissue layers have been pulled up.




Tuesday, May 21, 2019
10 am - 2 pm 
Sylvania Tam-O-Shanter
7060 Sylvania Avenue
Admission to the event is FREE
  • 90 or more exhibitors with information about their programs, products, and services for people age 60 and over
  • Health screenings
  • Health and wellness demonstrations
  • Country band playing hits from yesterday and today
  • Boxed lunch for $5.00 for attendees 60 and over. Lunch includes chicken leg with barbecue glaze; baked beans; coleslaw; corn muffin; and fruit parfait.
         Lunch tickets may be purchased:
            - in advance at the Area Office on Aging, 2155 Arlington Avenue
            - in advance at area Senior Centers
            - at the event

For more information:
Call 419-382-0624


Copyright © May 2019 Aging Gracefully, Volume 29, All rights reserved.

Contact us at:
419-380-4000 or
1154 Larc Lane
Toledo, Ohio 43614

Contributions to this Newsletter comes from:
Triad Residential Solutions
Sunshine Communities
Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities

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Lucas County Board of DD · 1154 Larc Lane · Toledo, Oh 43614 · USA

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