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Insights into the scale of co-morbidities in people with learning disabilities

A study has discovered that the majority of people with learning disabilities are living with two or more long-term conditions

A study has discovered that the majority of people with learning disabilities are living with two or more long-term conditions


Picture: Tim George

Research by the Scottish Learning Disabilities Observatory, which involved reviewing detailed clinical assessments of more than 1,000 adults who were known to health or social care services, found that 99% of people with learning disabilities were living with two or more long-term conditions. 

This is believed to be the first study of its type because it was conducted at scale, across the lifespan, involving a detailed health assessment and including a full range of potential conditions. 

Across the whole sample, people had, on average, about 11 co-existing long-term conditions. Eight conditions were so common as to affect more than one in five people; these included sensory impairments, obesity, epilepsy, constipation and movement disorders.

Unlike the general population, large numbers of co-morbidities were found across all ages and were unrelated to neighbourhood measures of deprivation. The authors draw attention to the challenges in supporting people with a number of co-morbidities, especially given the extent to which the profile and presentation of conditions differs from the general population. 

Traditional long-term pathways are typically condition-specific and therefore greater education and awareness is needed, as well as effective approaches to long-term care coordination.

Dave Atkinson is an independent consultant nurse


Kinnear D et al (2018) Prevalence of physical conditions and multimorbidity in a cohort of adults with intellectual disabilities with and without Down syndrome: cross-sectional study. BMJ Open 8, 2: e018292 1-9 bmjopen.bmj.com/content/bmjopen/8/2/e018292.full.pdf

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