People with learning disabilities suffer from a far greater number of illnesses than previously known

February 12, 2018, University of Glasgow

People with learning disabilities are suffering from a far greater number of illnesses than had been previously understood, adding to concerns that life-threatening conditions are being routinely missed.

A new study, published in BMJ Open, based on detailed clinical assessments of over 1,000 adults found that nearly all of them suffered from 'multi-morbidity', or the co-existence of different conditions ranging from obesity, constipation to poor eyesight, with rates far higher than previously thought.

These findings, by the Scottish Learning Disabilities Observatory follow concerns that people with learning are dying from treatable conditions.

Previous studies in the UK and internationally reporting on multi-morbidity have not gone into the level of detail seen in this research. Dr. Deborah Kinnear, Research Fellow at the Observatory, called for greater awareness amongst clinicians and carers of the types of conditions that are commonly experienced by adults with learning disabilities.

"Understanding both the types of conditions that people with learning disabilities experience and the fact that they are more likely to experience a greater combination of these conditions is vital if we are to provide effective treatment and stop people dying from preventable illnesses. Clinicians and carers may sometimes miss conditions, or misattribute symptoms to the individual's learning disabilities (also known as diagnostic overshadowing). This can be compounded by communication difficulties experienced by people with learning disabilities and the fact that conditions experienced by people with learning disabilities differ to those commonly seen in the general population." Dr. Kinnear said.

This unique study analysed the results of detailed clinical assessments of 1,023 adults with learning disabilities in Scotland. Over 98.7% of people were found to have more than one physical health condition and the average number of conditions for each person was 11 with one person having 28 co-existing health conditions. Some of the most common conditions found among study participants were: visual impairment, obesity, epilepsy, constipation and movement disorders. Many of these conditions are painful, disabling and can be potentially life threatening. But with effective identification and care the majority could have been prevented or treated.

The research was led by the Scottish Learning Disabilities Observatory which is funded by the Scottish Government and based in the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow.

Professor Anna Cooper, Director of the Observatory, said: "These findings are important because they highlight critical differences in the pattern of health for the population with learning disabilities, with people in this population experiencing, on average 11 different at any one time. The average age of the people assessed was only 43 years so we are seeing complex combinations of health problems arising for people with learning disabilities across all ages, young and old. These findings should help NHS organisations to provide improved care pathways for people with learning disabilities."

Explore further: Adults with learning disabilities at greater risk of sight problems

More information: Prevalence of physical conditions and multimorbidity in a cohort of adults with intellectual disabilities with and without Down syndrome: cross-sectional study. BMJ Open 2018;8:e018292. DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-018292

Related Stories

Adults with learning disabilities at greater risk of sight problems

July 2, 2012
Adults with learning disabilities are ten times more likely to be blind or have impaired vision according to researchers from Lancaster University.

Picture book could help people with learning disabilities and epilepsy

December 5, 2016
A severe lack of understanding and research into the needs of people with learning disabilities and epilepsy is placing them at risk say experts from the University of Hertfordshire.

Improving the health of people with learning disabilities

February 28, 2014
People with learning (intellectual) disabilities have a lower life expectancy than the general population and are more likely to suffer physical disabilities and chronic conditions.

Work begins on the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review Programme

December 21, 2015
Academics from the University of Bristol recently began work on the English Learning Disabilities Mortality Review Programme, commissioned by Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP) on behalf of NHS England. This ...

Adults with intellectual disabilities are at high risk of preventable emergency admissions

September 12, 2017
Adults with intellectual disabilities have more than twice as many emergency hospital admissions and five times more preventable emergency admissions than other comparable individuals.

Patients with learning disabilities less likely to be diagnosed with cancer

April 12, 2016
Coronary heart disease and cancer rates among people with learning disabilities are nearly a third lower than the general population, says new research.

Recommended for you

Seven percent of children in orthodontic care at 'high risk' for sleep disorders, according to new research

August 21, 2018
A child who is restless, hyperactive and can't concentrate could have a problem rooted in a source parents might not suspect: a sleep disorder.

Simple leg exercises could reduce impact of sedentary lifestyle on heart and blood vessels

August 21, 2018
A sedentary lifestyle can cause an impairment of the transport of blood around the body, which increases the risk of disease in the heart and blood vessels. New research published in Experimental Physiology suggests that ...

If you've got MS, exercise means much more than moving

August 21, 2018
For people with multiple sclerosis, the meaning of exercise stretches way beyond health and keeping fit, shows new research revealing what life's really like with the condition.

Your office may be affecting your health

August 20, 2018
Workers in open office seating had less daytime stress and greater daytime activity levels compared to workers in private offices and cubicles, according to new research led by the University of Arizona.

Healthy diet linked to healthy cellular aging in women

August 20, 2018
Eating a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in added sugar, sodium and processed meats could help promote healthy cellular aging in women, according to a new study published in the American Journal ...

Sitting for long hours found to reduce blood flow to the brain

August 20, 2018
A team of researchers with Liverpool John Moores University in the U.K. has found evidence of reduced blood flow to the brain in people who sit for long periods of time. In their paper published in the Journal of Applied ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.