Dementia in a Person with Learning Disabilities


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mom-and-daughter-hisc2-300x200.jpgPeople with learning disabilities face different challenges than those without. According to the Alzheimer's Society, there may also be differences when it comes to dementia. Postings on the Alzheimer’s Society’s website offer information that may be valuable for those caring for people with learning disabilities who may also be concerned about the possible development of dementia.

It’s More Common

Some figures estimate that 1 in 9 people over 65 will develop dementia. For those with a learning disability, the figure is 1 in 5. It’s also more common for people with learning disabilities to develop dementia at an earlier age. This is even more pronounced among people with Down’s syndrome. About one-third of individuals with Down’s syndrome develop dementia while in their 50s.

Symptoms May Differ

Depending on the type and severity of the learning disability, a person’s symptoms may differ somewhat from those typically associated with dementia. For example, changes in personality or behavior may be more common for those with more severe disabilities. For an individual with Down’s syndrome, memory loss – the symptom most commonly associated with dementia – may be more difficult to assess. Also, the development of epileptic seizures later in life for a person with Down’s syndrome may be an indicator of dementia.

A Baseline is Needed

People classified with learning disabilities may already experience challenges in areas in which dementia typically brings about deterioration, such as language skills, typical behavioral patterns, thinking/reasoning, or day-to-day functioning and skills. It’s therefore important to establish a “baseline” that assesses their typical function as adults. If a baseline is recorded, it will be easier to determine if there is any unexplained deterioration in these areas, which can help to indicate the possibility of dementia development.

Specialized Care is Desirable.​

Whenever possible, a person with a learning disability who also has dementia should be treated by individuals with experience in both areas. The combination of the two issues can lead to unique situations, and a professional with prior experience may be better equipped to address these situations.

To download the Alzheimer’s Society’s publication on learning disabilities and dementia, click here​.


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