Older people with intellectual disability face 'social isolation,' report finds

Older people with an intellectual disability can face “serious social isolation” which can have a negative impact on their health, writes Noel Baker.

Older people with intellectual disability face 'social isolation,' report finds

Research from the Intellectual Disability Supplement to the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (IDS-TILDA) showed that more people with an intellectual ability are undergoing health screenings and have better access to GPs, but those advantages can be offset by the impact of social isolation and poorly-managed chronic health problems.

The Wave 3 Report looks at those aged 40 and above and the findings come 10 years after the launch of the project. The report found:

  • 28.3% of participants had no teeth and half of those aged over 65 had no teeth —yet two thirds of those affected did not receive dentures;
  • Reported diagnosis of constipation stood at 43.5% — almost three times the rate in phase one of the study;
  • Dementia screening rates had doubled between that in Wave 1 of the project and Wave 3;
  • Objectively measures overweight and obesity increased from 66% in wave 2 of the study to 79.7% in Wave 3;
  • Prevalence of depression was “significantly higher” than in the general population, with 10% of participants reporting symptoms.

The report highlighted the continued reliance of older people with an intellectual disability on siblings and their families, yet fewer had living parents and a smaller number than before lived close to their parents. Those living in residential settings were more likely to report having friends in the same facility but fewer than half had any non-resident friends.

While more than half of the participants rated their health as excellent or very good, the research found “older people with an intellectual disability continued to be more socially excluded than their counterparts in the general population”.

This also meant they had to rely on others for transport. Just one person reported driving themselves and just under 30% used bus transport, while almost 93% were driven as a passenger.

The report found a fall in the rate of people moving to community-based settings, as outlined in government policy — down from 26.7% in Wave 2 of the study to 11.4% in the most recent report.

Lead author of the report, Prof Mary McCarron said: “We are all working hard to increase community-based moves and to improve social connectedness, but the Wave 3 report has highlighted that movement over time is more likely to be about movement to settings with more supports, largely due to changing health needs.

“This raises two questions: what additional community supports are needed so that people with an intellectual disability may age in place and how can we better manage chronic conditions, especially in community settings?”

She also said that those with an intellectual disability deserve the same attention as the rest of the population when it comes to health services, yet the significant differences in the prevalence of chronic health conditions between the general population and people with an intellectual disability highlighted the need for targeted health intervention programmes.

The report, launched by Minister of State for Disability Issues, Finian McGrath, came on International Day of Disabled Persons.

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