Saturday, 16 December 2017

Mortality patterns in older adults with learning disability

"Older adults with ID [intellectual disability] in Sweden carry a higher mortality risk compared with the general population, mainly attributable to respiratory, nervous and circulatory diseases."

So said the findings reported by Nawi Ng and colleagues [1] (open-access) looking at the records of some 15,000 individuals diagnosed with an intellectual (learning) disability compared with a similar number of control participants with respect to "patterns and risk of mortality." Researchers observed "a 4-fold higher mortality rate and a shorter median survival time among older adults with ID compared with the general older adult population." Such findings add to a growing body of research literature (see here and see here) suggesting that behavioural, cognitive and/or psychiatric diagnoses seem to be accompanied by some significant health inequalities too.

I could go into the details about the Ng study and the various ins-and-outs of how they arrived at their conclusions but to be honest, I'm just not minded to. I say that on the basis that the figures speak for themselves: "the mortality rate among individuals with ID was three times higher than in the control population" and: "Individuals with DS [Down's syndrome] had an 11-fold higher mortality risk than the control population." Sombre reading, perhaps partially reflecting how modern-day society treats some of its most vulnerable citizens.

The ultimate question should be: is there anything that can be done to improve this situation for those with a learning disability? Yes, is the answer; taking into account how a diagnosis of ID for example, means that some might be "more prone to cardiovascular disease risk factors, morbidity and mortality than the general population." The authors add that: "Cardiovascular disease health promotion and prevention programmes should be tailored for individuals with ID, to prevent or delay cardiovascular diseases and premature mortality in this vulnerable group." Corresponding action in relation to deaths resulting from epilepsy for example, should also (and always) be a priority.

"How a society treats its most vulnerable is always the measure of its humanity" is a phrase attributed to many speakers. On the basis of the research from Ng and other study results, society is seemingly failing many of those diagnosed with a learning disability as it is other vulnerable sections of society (see here).

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[1] Ng N. et al. Mortality patterns and risk among older men and women with intellectual disability: a Swedish national retrospective cohort study. BMC Geriatrics. 2017; 17: 269.

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