Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Health checks for people with learning disabilities reduce risk of death, study finds

Health checks for people with intellectual disabilities are associated with reduced mortality, particularly for autistic people and those with Down’s syndrome, according to a new study.

Since people with an intellectual disability are more likely to have multiple health problems, annual health checks were introduced to improve early detection and treatment of diseases and health conditions. However, it is not known whether this translates into health gain.

The study, published in BMJ Open, therefore set out to discover whether having a health check could lead to better survival and lower rates of mortality.

Just 28% of participants had a record of ever having a health check

To do this, the researchers looked at the GP records of nearly 27,000 people with an intellectual disability in Wales between 2006 and 2017. Of these, 7,650 (28%) had a GP record of ever having a health check.

Patients who received a health check were more likely to be older and have epilepsy, where as those with an intellectual disability and autism were less likely to have a health check.

After analysing the data, the researchers identified that those who had a health check had a lower rate of death compared to those who had not had a health check (2.5 per 1,000 per year fewer deaths).

The results also indicated that those with autism and those with Down’s syndrome attained better survival rates when receiving a health check.

However, minimal evidence of reduced mortality rates was observed for those diagnosed with conditions such as diabetes or epilepsy, and no evidence was obtained to indicate that health check improved outcomes for people diagnosed with cancer.

Low uptake of health checks is “concerning”

The authors of the study note that they were only able to include people with an intellectual disability that had a health check coded in their medical records, however, it is likely that some participants had undergone a health check but it was not in their notes.

They estimate the study could be missing a third of the people who received a health check, and therefore the true difference between those who have health checks and those who do not may be larger than the research detected.

Importantly, the research highlights a “lower than expected” uptake of health checks in the adult population in Wales, with 71.6% having no record of a health check.

The researchers describe this as “concerning”, and suggest that further research is done to discover why adults with intellectual disabilities are not being offered health checks and the barriers that are preventing people from attending.

Increasing uptake of health checks could prevent morbidities and improve survival

As the authors of the study conclude: “Increasing the uptake of health checks could help with prevention of morbidities and improve survival for people who do not already have chronic disease. However, there was limited evidence from this work that survival is improved when a person has existing morbidities.

“This study indicates benefits associated with health checks, in terms of lower rates of mortality for those with autism or Down’s syndrome.”

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