Nursing homes struggle with intellectual disability

Victorian researchers call for state-wide consultancy services to help aged care facilities provide socially appropriate care.

Three quarters of Victorian aged care facilities report difficulties in supporting people with intellectual disabilities, according to a report published in the Journal of Intellectual Disability Research.

The researchers reported that residents with intellectual disabilities needed more individualised attention because they tended to be younger than most residents and in most cases, had different interests and care needs.

They often experience social isolation, boredom and negative attitudes from other residents.

Almost half of the 207 residents with intellectual disabilities in the 286 participating facilities were under the age of 65 and only seven were over 85.

More than 60 per cent of them were high care residents but only one in ten had dementia.

“People working in the aged care facilities didn’t understand their needs to the same extent that they understood those of other residents because their characteristics were different,” said Chris Bigby from La Trobe University’s School of Social Work and Social Policy.

“One of the main problems was integrating them in with other residents. It was not so much about caring for them but more to do with the social aspects of aged care.”

As well as entering aged care at a younger age than most other residents, people with intellectual disabilities are likely to remain in care for longer.

Their average length of stay was 5.6 years, which is more than double the average.

The researchers found the services that reported a good quality of care and support for residents with intellectual disabilities were the ones that worked in partnership with specialist disability services.

But several facilities said they were unable access disability services for residents already receiving aged care support.

Dr Bigby suggested that state-wide consultancy services that could provide support on a case-by-case basis could help address the problem.

“Aged care facilities need to understand about the needs of people with intellectual disabilities but they are a very small minority group so it doesn’t make sense to say all aged care nurses need to be trained in this area,” she said.

The study found that more than a third of residents with intellectual disabilities came directly from the family home, mostly because their primary carers had died or become severely ill.

A quarter of residents with an intellectual disability had previously lived in some form of supported accommodation.

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