Neurocognitive Disorders: Dementia in People With an Intellectual Disability #AtoZChallenge

Hi everyone and welcome to my letter N post in the #AtoZChallenge. Today, I want to talk about cognitive decline and neurocognitive disorders – dementia in particular – as they relate to people with intellectual disabilities.

People with an intellectual disability are at increased risk of developing dementia at a relatively young age compared to the general population. Particularly Down Syndrome is a significant risk factor for early-onset dementia, especially Alzheimer’s Disease. Autopsies discovered that almost all individuals with Down Syndrome show physiological signs of Alzheimer’s by the age of forty. This, however, does not mean all individuals will actually have the symptoms of dementia.

In people with intellectual disability not due to Down Syndrome, the risk of developing dementia is also increased. Risk factors in this population include epilepsy, head injury, sensory impairments, poor mental or physical health, as well as an increased prevalence of general risk factors such as poor diet and lack of exercise.

With the higher risk of developing dementia for individuals with intellectual disability, it is all the more important that it be recognized early on so that effective support strategies may be implemented. This is especially hard in more severely intellectually disabled people. I mean, I remember a woman with Down Syndrome being assessed for dementia at my previous care home and the staff commented about the screening tool: “Does she know the name of her support coordinator?” The staff snorted here, as the woman couldn’t even speak. It is still important, however, to recognize when even the most severely disabled people might be declining cognitively.

Signs of possible dementia in people with intellectual disability include increased irritability, passivity and withdrawal, no longer wanting to go to daily activities and increased difficulty with activities of daily living such as self-care. However, these can also be signs of other underlying medical or psychosocial issues.

5 thoughts on “Neurocognitive Disorders: Dementia in People With an Intellectual Disability #AtoZChallenge

  1. People with Down Syndrome appear to the outsider to be having longer and healthier lives than previously expected and are given more opportunities to fulfil their potential. Some are actors in mainstream television and films and help make documentaries. But a longer life span can mean more challenges later in their lives for them and their families.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree completely. That being said, increased life expectancy and its associated issues due to aging are a challenge facing the general population in the developed world too.

      Liked by 1 person

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