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Care of older people

Regular health checks needed for older people with learning disabilities to reduce late diagnosis, NICE says

The Pharmaceutical Journal 12 APR 2018

Older people with learning disabilities should have annual health assessments to help monitor their health more effectively, according to new guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

According to the guidance, older people with learning disabilities are more likely to develop serious health problems, such as epilepsy or pneumonia. But because they can find it difficult to express their needs and be heard, late diagnosis of these conditions can lead to increased mortality.

“Communicating symptoms is never easy, but for people with learning disabilities it can be particularly difficult,” explained Margaret Lally, chair of the NICE guidance committee.

“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.”

NICE advises that annual health checks are recorded in a tailored ‘health action plan’ that can be updated to detail the support that an individual needs to remain healthy.

The guidance also says that as patients grow older, staff should be proactive, set up plans in advance, and consider the needs of their family and carers to ensure that the patient can maintain important relationships through any changes.

The guidance 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.