New guidance from NICE, advises health and social care workers to help organise regular health assessments for older people with learning disabilities because they may find it difficult to express their needs and be heard.
Older people with learning disabilities are more likely to develop serious health problems such as, epilepsy or pneumonia. They are more likely to die from these conditions because of late diagnosis. They may also find it hard to access health services because of hearing or sight problems.
Margaret Lally, chair of the guideline committee, said: “Communicating symptoms is never easy but for people with learning disabilities it can be particularly difficult. Health problems such as hearing loss or dementia can easily be masked by someone’s behaviour when they have a learning disability. As people grow older, we need to make sure that they are receiving regular health checks. This will allow continuous assessment and quick access to specialist services when necessary.”
Discussions about changes that may occur with age are crucial to help people monitor their own health, the guidance says.
NICE advises that annual health checks are recorded in a ‘health action plan’ that can be updated annually. This personalised plan details what help and support the individual needs to stay healthy and provides other information about support needs and lifestyle issues.
Giving people with learning disabilities clear and regular information is essential to help people get the help they need and prevent late diagnosis of age-related conditions.
Professor Mark Baker, director of the NICE centre for guidelines, said “Our guidance recognises that people with learning disabilities need extra care as they get older. Ensuring people have regular health assessments as they age will improve the diagnosis of common conditions and reduce delays.”
As time passes, ageing carers and families may have to explore other care arrangements for those needing support. For instance, if there is a death in the family or the person needs to move house.
The guideline describes how to help people with learning disabilities as they grow older receive appropriate support at the right times, preventing delays in care. It says staff should be proactive and set up plans in advance which take into account each person’s hopes and wishes, and whom they want to spend time with. They should also consider the needs of family members and carers and help people with learning disabilities maintain important relationships.
The guideline also advises local authorities to ensure there are opportunities for people growing older with learning disabilities to socialise and be active in their communities. For example, through social clubs or exercise classes at local gyms and swimming pools.
NICE says people with learning disabilities should be able to live a good life as they grow older.