“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease”
(World Health Organisation)

Good health is important to us all. When we feel well we are more likely to engage with others, join in activities and enjoy our lives. Being uncomfortable, in pain or distressed undermines our ability to be independent and participate; and so impacts on the quality of our lives.

People with intellectual disabilities may have a number of health issues. These relate to a number of factors including:

  • The underlying cause of the disability (for instance people with Down syndrome are more likely to have trouble with their thyroid);
  • The person’s intellectual disability making it more difficult for them to read or understand public health and health promotion messages (for instance the importance of and ways to access cancer screening programs)
  • The person’s communication ability may make it difficult for the person to describe their symptoms or experiences (e.g. side effects of medication, psychiatric symptoms)
  • The social disadvantage people with disabilities often experience (for instance, low income, unemployment, limited housing options)

People who have difficulty expressing themselves with words, may find it particularly hard to let others know if they are feeling unwell or in pain. Those supporting them in their lives therefore need to be “tuned in” to their mood and behaviour so illness or disease can be prevented or picked up early. Likewise regular appointments with doctors and other health professionals help those professionals get to know the person, do regularly ‘check-ups’ and prevent or detect those conditions known to be more common in people with particular disabilities.

Strategies to enable people with intellectual disabilities to achieve and maintain optimal health, function and wellbeing include:

  • An effective partnership between the person, those who support them and their health professional team.
  • Regular health reviews to enable health professionals to
    • Detect health risks
    • Identify disease early
    • Provide disease prevention and health promotion interventions.
  • Using tools such as measuring and charting key health indicators, including weight, mood, menstrual symptoms, behaviours that may indicate distress, response to interventions such as medication. These tools are particularly valuable when someone with a disability lives in supported accommodation settings where there are changing staff on shifts and staff turnover.

Achieving and maintaining the best health and function possible is made possible through effective partnerships between the person with the disability, those who support them, and their health professionals.

jacui bob and julie

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