Asperger's in the Elderly Spotlight on Symptoms

Page content

Why Asperger’s in the Elderly is Often Undiagnosed

Asperger’s syndrome was only given an official name in 1981 which means that a focused, accurate diagnosis was not readily available before then. The condition was named after Hans Asperger, a Viennese pediatrician who studied a group of children in the 1940s. He accurately recorded the signs and symptoms of Asperger’s after observing their behavior, but his work was only widely recognized some decades later. Some older folk with Asperger’s syndrome may have been misdiagnosed as having OCD or mental retardation in their younger years.

Symptoms of Asperger’s in the Elderly

Symptoms of Asperger’s in the elderly are sometimes more muted than they are in younger generations. This is because the person has often developed coping mechanisms over the years. These include avoiding situations where they are uncomfortable and finding friends who share their interests. The following symptoms are commonly seen:

  • Elderly people with Asperger’s are often regarded as antisocial. They shy away from contact from people and avoid answering phones and engaging in small talk.
  • Conversations may turn into a monologue dominated by the person with Asperger’s. They often talk solely about something that interests them and do not seem to comprehend that the other person also has feelings and would like to contribute to the conversation.
  • Body language is different to that of their peers and is often awkward or inappropriate.
  • Personal hygiene may be lacking, especially if an elderly Asperger’s person is living alone. Clothing may be dirty and teeth and hair may be neglected.
  • Language is interpreted literally and Asperger’s in the elderly can limit their ability to follow a conversation. If sarcasm is used or figures of speech such as metaphors or similes, it can be confusing and bewildering. Punch lines of jokes may be misunderstood as well.
  • A person may have an obsession that sets them apart as eccentric. This is a common sign of Asperger’s and the person spends hours studying a certain subject and often collects items that are related to it.
  • Asperger’s in the elderly may be signified by a strange manner of speaking. The person often speaks in a flat monotone and seldom makes eye contact. It may appear that they are not interested in conversing when this is generally not the case.
  • People with Asperger’s are comfortable with routine and may become aggravated if someone tries to interfere with these. They may come across as rigid and unyielding.
  • Elderly people with Asperger’s often regard life as black and white or right and wrong. There are no gray areas and they find it difficult to make allowances for those who do not behave in an expected manner.

Asperger’s in the elderly is often undiagnosed. The symptoms may be less noticeable than in a child or young person but will be seen in character quirks and unusual behavior. Seeking a diagnosis can be helpful for the person and their family and friends.


The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, Tony Attwood, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007