COVID-19 and intellectual disabilities

Particularly vulnerable group
  • Deborah Condon

People with intellectual disabilities are particularly vulnerable to adverse outcomes associated with COVID-19 (coronavirus), a leading expert in this area has warned.

According to Prof Mary McCarron of the Trinity Centre for Ageing and Intellectual Disability, those with intellectual disabilities are a high-risk group because they may have several health conditions, they have low levels of health literacy and they rely on others for their care.

She highlighted that social isolation can be a particular problem for older people with intellectual disabilities because they already tend to have smaller networks and fewer social supports than the general population, and they do not have partners or children of their own to offer support.

Furthermore, many who live at home are living with ageing parent carers, who themselves are a high-risk group when it comes to COVID-19. And those with intellectual disabilities may not understand why visiting restrictions are in place, increasing their sense of social isolation.

Meanwhile, many of those with intellectual disabilities also have mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. As a result, the potential impact associated with COVID-19-related worry and disruption is a particular issue for this group.

When it comes to accessing information about COVID-19, many people with intellectual disabilities have difficulty reading, while very few have access to the internet to look for information and support.

Any information that is made available to them must be in an accessible, easy-to-understand format. Easy-to-read information on COVID-19 is available from Inclusion Ireland here, while easy-to-read information on hand hygiene is available here.

Prof McCarron also pointed out that the health and disability sectors "are not adequately prepared and equipped to meet the needs of people with intellectual disabilities.

She said that in the past, this group has been subjected to "attitudinal bias and prejudice that has devalued their lives and reduced their timely access to appropriate healthcare".

She said it is now essential that the relevant skills are put in place in healthcare and social care systems, in order to ensure that they can respond in the right way to those with intellectual disabilities.

Prof McCarron is a professor of ageing and intellectual disability and is the director of the Trinity Centre for Ageing and Intellectual Disability at Trinity College Dublin.


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