Comparisons show need for improvements across Europe in systematic health checks for people with learning disabilities


The researchers in this study set out to look at international comparisons at the European level in the health conditions and health risk factors of people with learning disabilities. They looked at people living in fully staffed residential services compared with those living in unstaffed family homes or independent houses with no formal support.

The research team involved 1,269 people with learning disabilities. Interviews were held with those people or their representatives in 14 EU countries, using the P15, a multinational assessment battery for collecting data on health indicators relevant to people with learning disabilities.

They found that obesity and sedentary lifestyle along with a number of illnesses such as epilepsy, mental disorders, allergies or constipation were highly prevalent among those interviewed.

They also found a higher presence of myocardial infarctions, chronic bronchitis, osteoporosis and gastric or duodenal ulcers among participants in countries considered to be at the early stage of de-institutionalization.

The rate of medical health promotion measures as vaccinations, cancer screenings and medical checks was found to be low for those in family homes and independent living arrangements in all countries.

The authors conclude that their findings confirm earlier studies that suggest that particular illnesses are highly prevalent in people with learning disabilities. They found differences between different living arrangements however, depending on the level of formal support available and which stage of de-institutionalization the host country was at.

They recommend from their findings that people with learning disabilities should receive of tailored primary health with access to quality health promotion programmes, vaccination programmes and systematic health checks.

The impact of living arrangements and deinstitutionalisation in the health status of persons with intellectual disability in Europe, Martínez-Leal, R et al., in Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 55: 858–872


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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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