Belfast Telegraph

Intellectually disabled help urged

Two thirds of intellectually disabled older people have trouble reading, writing and managing money, research has found.

Three years on from the first review, a unique study on how Ireland's 30,000 intellectually disabled live has revealed almost two thirds also have difficulty travelling around their local community or else they do not at all.

The head researcher, Professor Mary McCarron of Trinity College, warned about the impact of a combination of old age and mental disability.

"Unless we can address some of these challenges older people with ID are likely to live a poor quality of life as they grow older and ageing in poor health is an empty prize," she said.

One of the most startling findings involved people with Down syndrome.

The research, compiled as part of The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda) by Trinity researchers, found people with the condition are almost twice as likely to suffer dementia and are regularly affected by the disease 10 years earlier.

The study of over 40s said since 2010 the prevalence of dementia among people with Down syndrome has almost doubled from 15.8% to 29.9% - a much higher level than the general population.

It said the average age of onset for people with the condition was 55 compared to over 65 for other people.

Other findings on people's physical well being showed rates of high blood pressure were more than 50% lower for people with an intellectual disability while heart attack rates are almost three times higher among the general population.

Rates of osteoporosis among people with intellectual disabilities doubled over the three years and more than 70% of participants engaged in only low levels of physical activity, which do not really have health benefits.

Obesity and overweight rates are as high as 67% and there was an almost 50% increase in the prevalence of cataracts.

Tilda also found older people with an intellectual disability are generally not married and without any children or grandchildren and are far more reliant on their siblings and extended family.

Two thirds reported having trouble reading or writing, with numeracy and money management while 62.7% reported they were unable to read their own name.

Almost one third had no education.

There was a slight improvement in internet use in the last three years from 7.3% to 10.5%, but it is far below the 77% usage rates among the general population, the study showed.

Just 12.6% said that they were able to turn on a computer.

Ownership of mobile phones remained essentially the same at about 24% and continues to compare poorly with mobile phone ownership figures nationally - less than one in 20 could send a text message.

Prof McCarron concluded: "Our findings raise serious concerns for the planned movement from congregated settings of older adults with more severe and profound levels of ID and higher levels of ill health.

"We promised that movement to the community would improve the quality of people's lives.

"Unless the community is truly organised and resourced to support ageing people with ID when there are complex health issues, their experience may instead be one of social isolation, loneliness and new forms of institutionalisation."

The intellectually disabled section of the Tilda study is the first study of its kind in Europe and the only one in the world with the ability to compare the ageing of people with intellectual disability directly with the general ageing population.

Kathleen Lynch, junior health minister responsible for primary and social care, said: "We are very fortunate to have such a rich and valuable repository of information about people with an intellectual disability who are growing old in Ireland."

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