The Simon Heng column

    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
    experience.

    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
    support?

    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?

     

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