Risk factors for falls amongst adults with learning disabilities identified in US study

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In 2010, a study by Age UK suggested that up to one in three people aged 65 and over fall each year and that the cost to the NHS in England of falls amongst older people was estimated to be up to £4.6m a day.

Age UK suggest that if older people took regular exercise designed to improve strength and balance, the risk of falls could be cut by up to 55%.

People with learning disabilities of all ages can be more susceptible to falls and we know from a variety of sources that they tend to exercise less than their non learning disabled peers.

The researchers in this U.S. study set out to look at the prevalence of falls amongst a cohort of adults with learning disabilities and to explore specific risk factors.

They used baseline data from the Longitudinal Health and Intellectual Disability Study for 1,515 adults learning disability.

What they found was that almost 25% of were reported to have had one or more falls in the 12 months preceding the study. Not surprisingly, they found that the prevalence of falls increased with advancing age, which is consistent with data for people without learning disabilities.

In terms of specific risk factors, the carried out a series logistic regressions and found the risk factors for falls in adults with learning disabilities to be

  • being female,
  • having arthritis,
  • having a seizure disorder,
  • taking more than 4 medications,
  • using walking aids,
  • having difficulty lifting/carrying greater than 10 lb.

A better understanding of the risk factors can lead to approaches to reducing their impact and therefore reducing the number of falls amongst adults with learning disabilities.

Prevalence of Falls and Risk Factors in Adults with Intellectual Disability, Hsieh K et al., in American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 117, 6, 442-454.

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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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