How America is neglecting its growing elderly autistic population

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[E]merging research suggests that autistic adults are at high risk of a broad array of physical and mental health conditions, including diabetes, depression, and heart disease. They are also about 2.5 times as likely as their neurotypical peers to die early. The reasons for these grim statistics may range from missed medical appointments and medication doses to a lifetime of social slights and discrimination. Many autistic seniors also bear the consequences of having been undiagnosed for most of their lives. In a 2011 study, researchers found that 14 of 141 people in a Pennsylvania psychiatric hospital had undiagnosed autism, and of those, all but 2 had been misdiagnosed with schizophrenia.

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Better diagnosis, access to care, and adequate support are all essential to improving the outlook for this neglected group of seniors, experts say—although few studies exist to support these observations. “There really is no systematic research on autism over 65, and so we really don’t know the nature of the problems,” says Joseph Piven, professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “But the ‘pig in the python’ is headed our way, with the aging population and recognition of higher prevalence of autism than was once thought.”

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