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November 14, 2023

Supporting Individuals with Learning Disabilities and Dementia

5 key areas to support and practical strategies to ensure individuals can live well with dementia.

Individuals with learning disabilities are living longer than ever before, thanks to advancements in medical and social care.

The challenge we now face as a community is that living longer means the risk of developing illnesses associated with older age, such as dementia, is on the increase.

In this article, we explore common signs of dementia and the importance of recording change to aid early diagnosis. We also look at 5 key areas of support and share practical strategies to ensure an individual can live well with dementia.

Statistics about learning disabilities and dementia

About 1 in 5 people with learning disabilities who are over the age of 65 will develop dementia with an increased risk, particularly of developing Alzheimer’s disease for individuals with Down syndrome.

In a recent report, Dementia UK provided the following statistics about the number of people with a learning disability estimated to have dementia. Although these figures are not exact as access to consistent data is limited, they are commonly accepted among professionals.

Numbers of people with Down syndrome estimated to have Alzheimer’s disease:

    • 1 in 50 of those aged 30 – 39 years

    • 1 in 10 of those aged 40 – 49 years

    • 1 in 3 of those aged 50 – 59 years

    • More than half of those who live to 60 or above

Numbers of people with other learning disabilities estimated to have dementia:

    • 1 in 10 of those aged 50 – 56 years

    • 1 in 7 of those aged 65 – 75 years

    • Nearly three quarters of those aged 85 or over

Down Syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease

Individuals with Down syndrome are at greater risk of developing dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease, compared to other learning disabilities and they can experience symptoms at a much earlier age. While research is still ongoing, this may be because individuals with Down syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21.

It is commonly recommended that everyone with Down syndrome should have a baseline test before they are 30 to establish their level of functioning, as this is vital in helping detect possible health changes such as dementia as they get older. This can assist with early diagnosis and access to the right support.


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