Hi everyone. I’m halfway through the #AtoZChallenge and this means I’m getting a bit weary of it. Today’s post for the letter O is going to be short I think, as I covered issues around cognitive decline in older people with intellectual disabilities already yesterday. However, today I want to focus on aging in general.
People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are at increased risk of developing chronic health conditions at a younger age compared to those without disabilities. These risks sometimes vary depending on the cause of someone’s intellectual disability. For instance, people with Down Syndrome, like I said yesterday, are at increased risk of developing early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. People with Fragile X Syndrome are at increased risk of heart problems. People with cerebral palsy (which isn’t in itself an intellectual disability, but can be comorbid with it) are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and various issues related to their mobility impairment, such as bone problems.
I once heard my staff at my previous care home say that, for people with significant intellectual disability, you need to add at least ten years to their chronological age to get their biological, health-related age. Of course, this doesn’t mean no severely intellectually disabled person can live into their eighties or even nineties – several at the care home next door did. However, it’s a rarity.
People with mild intellectual disability even more so than those with more severe disabilities often live into old age. This poses challenges to the healthcare system as well as causing these individuals dual risk of discrimination, based both on their age and their disability. Additionally, some older adults with mild intellectual disability, who may or may not have been identified as such, are caregivers to their even older parents.
Some people with unidentified mild intellectual disability end up in nursing homes as they age, where staff are not equipped to support them with their disability-related needs. Here in the Netherlands, thankfully, the intellectual disability care system is quite good, and most agencies have homes for older adults.