How we age can be affected by the way we live our lives and the experiences we have. This is particularly important for people with learning disabilities. People with learning disabilities share many of the same characteristics of ageing as the rest of the population.  

It is important that the services and the people that work within them have an understanding of the ageing process and the implications for the older people they support

Overall, people with learning disabilities share the same age related physical and psychological changes as other older people. With some of these changes come age related health risks and it is important that all older people have access to high quality public health and medical services.

People with learning disabilities are 2.5 times more likely to have health problems than other people but are often poorly served and discriminated by health services (Department of Health 2001; Emerson and Baines 2010; Mencap 2012). Because of their earlier life experiences adults with learning disabilities embark on the ageing process from a position of vulnerability rather than strength as they are often already in poor health (Bigby 2004, 2010).

As a result of unhealthy lifestyles throughout their lives, older people with learning disabilities are more likely to experience lower levels of fitness, unhealthy diets, and be less mobile leading to greater risk of obesity and age related diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and respiratory disease (Emerson and Baines 2010; Royal College of Nursing 2011).

Some people with learning disabilities have a specific genetic makeup which carries higher risks as they age. People with Fragile X syndrome have an increased risk of musculoskeletal disorder; people with Prader Willi syndrome an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity (Bigby 2004). People with Down syndrome show patterns of premature ageing; they are at high risk of early onset Alzheimer’s disease, with a one in four chance of developing the disease 40 years earlier than the rest of the population as well as facing a range of other health related risks (Holland et al 1998).

Research shows that psychiatric conditions increase with older age though it is less likely to be treated (ELSA 2002). Older people with learning disabilities have a higher risk of psychiatric disorder than their younger peers, which is two to four times more common than for other older people (Bigby 2004, 2010 and Mental Health Foundation accessed 2012).

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