Because Health Matters: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Has Made the Health of People with Intellectual Disabilities a Priority. It Has Funded the Arc to Be Part of the Solution in Promoting and Improving the Health of People with ID

By Williams, Ann Cameron | The Exceptional Parent, August 2013 | Go to article overview

Because Health Matters: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Has Made the Health of People with Intellectual Disabilities a Priority. It Has Funded the Arc to Be Part of the Solution in Promoting and Improving the Health of People with ID


Williams, Ann Cameron, The Exceptional Parent


There's a reason that many people with intellectual disabilities (ID) aren't healthy. Chronic social and healthcare barriers present tremendous challenges for this population to access quality care, learn about healthy living habits, engage in regular exercise, and have the option to eat fresh, nutritious foods. Improving the health of people with ID is such a serious issue that it was the focus of a report by the Surgeon General in 2002 and has continued to be a major focus of study. The report concluded, among other things, that society at large and the health care system in particular have not found adequate ways of empowering people with ID to improve and protect their own health and play an active role in their own care and treatment.

Think about it: when was the last time you saw someone with an intellectual disability (ID) such as Down syndrome working out at your local health club, taking part in an exercise class, or even power walking in your neighborhood? Chances are--you haven't. It's not because people with intellectual disabilities aren't capable--because they are definitely capable. For years, organizations have created opportunities for people with ID to engage in specialized athletic events that are designed only for this population, so we know that they--like people in general--can work towards and achieve customized physical activity goals. The reason we don't typically see people with ID out and about in community health spaces is because we as a society haven't made inclusive health and health promotion for people with intellectual disabilities a priority in our community health efforts.

But we can change this. And here's why we need to: a summary of the health risks for someone with ID is astonishing.

* Many health care providers avoid patients with ID because they lack appropriate training or harbor negative or discriminatory attitudes

* Doctors who do treat patients with ID often overlook the most common conditions, such as vision and hearing loss, due to an exclusive focus on the person's disability and related conditions

* Information about self-care and health promotion has not been made accessible and widely available to patients with ID; individuals have not been given the tools needed to play an active role in their own care.

* Vision and hearing loss, obesity, poor oral health, and mental health issues are among the common, largely preventable problems that disproportionately affect people with ID.

* Oral health problems, which occur two to seven times as frequently among this population, are the number one area of disparity. In one study, 86% of individuals with ID reported having an oral health issue; 22% did not brush their teeth daily.

* As many as 55% of people with ID may be considered obese, a rate almost twice as high as that of the general population.

* People with ID are up to four times as likely to experience a mental health issue, yet dual diagnoses in these areas are among the least understood aspects of health care for this group

* When dementia is included as a mental health diagnosis, up to 70% of older adults with ID may have a mental health issue

* Some experts have suggested that preventable vision and hearing loss is so common for this population that adult patients with ID should be considered visually and hearing impaired until proven otherwise

As you can see, health issues for people with ID extend far beyond a lack of physical activity and are, in many areas, preventable. It's odd that this population - estimated to be around five (5) million in the US and growing - has been missing from regular social health activities, and even more odd is that people really haven't noticed. Up until now, that is.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made the health of people with intellectual disabilities a priority. The CDC has funded The Arc, the largest federation of disability nonprofits providing advocacy, supports, and services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, to be part of the solution in promoting and improving the health of people with ID. …

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