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

People with learning disabilities have significantly lower life expectancy than the general population

hospitalPeople with learning disabilities die, on average, more than 14 years younger than the general population, and are significantly more likely to have certain conditions and diseases, new figures have shown.

Figures from NHS Digital showed that females with a learning disability had an 18-year lower life expectancy than the general population, while males with a learning disability had a 14-year lower life expectancy.

In addition, people with learning disabilities were 26 times more likely to have epilepsy, 8 times more likely to have severe mental illness and 5 times more likely to have dementia. They were also 3 times more likely to suffer with hypothyroidism and almost twice as likely to suffer diabetes, heart failure, chronic kidney disease or stroke.

The data also showed that people with learning disabilities are not always receiving healthcare screening they are eligible for. For instance, 43.2% of people known to their GP to have a learning disability had an annual health check between April 1, 2014 and March 31, 2015. Coverage was better in older age groups, reaching 50% or higher in people aged 45 years or older. It was poorer in younger adults with less than 40% of those under 25 years having a health check.

Also, just 1 in 2 eligible women with a learning disability received breast cancer screening compared to 2 in 3 of those without.

Obesity was also found to be twice as common in people aged 18-35 with learning disabilities, while being underweight is twice as common in people aged over 64 with learning disabilities, compared with those without.

Data in the report were extracted for the Learning Disability Observatory at Public Health England. The programme was funded by NHS England.

Co-director of the Learning Disabilities Observatory team at Public Health England, Professor Gyles Glover, who helped to produce the report, said: “We hope local health care commissioners and providers will use these data to understand better the key health issues for this vulnerable group and how to tackle them more effectively.”

NHS Digital’s responsible statistician, Kathryn Salt, said: “We are delighted to have been able to collect and publish these data, as they provide the first information of its kind on the lives of the many thousands of people who have learning disabilities in England. We hope that this report will play a big part in identifying where provisions are working well and where they may need to be improved to better meet the needs of people with learning disabilities.”

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