Recently, the government announced an initiative to provide
better health care for people with learning difficulties, and the
two statistics which are driving this work forward have disturbed
me more than anything else I have encountered in the disabled
People with learning difficulties are four times more likely to
die of preventable diseases than the general population.
People with learning difficulties are 58 times more likely to
die before their 50th birthday.
I tried hard to think of unavoidable reasons why, statistically,
this group should live shorter lives than average. I understand,
for example, that people with Down’s syndrome are more prone to
congenital heart problems. And people with acquired brain injuries
may have injuries that shorten their lives.
But this does not explain the gulf in life expectancy between
the general population and people with learning difficulties. My
guess is that there are many causes for the statistics, each one
requiring intervention. Are people with learning difficulties more
prone to (fatal) accidents at home, on the streets or at work? Does
this mean that they need more health and safety education or
Is someone with a learning difficulty less likely to lead a
healthy lifestyle? The government wants us to take more
responsibility for our own health by eating healthily, taking
regular exercise, drinking sensibly and not smoking. What efforts
have been made to ensure these messages are accessible to people
with learning difficulties of all ages, and how are people helped
to maintain a healthy life?
With these causes, it is easy to see that community and acute
health services, education and carers will have a part to play in
helping people with learning difficulties to live longer. But what
if a large part of the problem is that someone with a learning
difficulty finds it difficult to assess their own state of health?
What if that person has difficulty in communicating how they feel
and deciding whether a particular feeling of being unwell
is serious? What does everyone do then?