Developmental Disability Health
It is important for primary care physicians to recognize that, in general, adults and older persons with an intellectual disability have the same needs for disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment as the general population. Those who do need medical attention discover that Australia’s hospitals are ill equipped to deal with people with moderate and severe developmental disability with limited communication who are often unable to express pain and discomfort and often serious illness is left undiagnosed.
For this reason Carers Alliance believes there is a place for specialist developmental disability clinics in all major teaching hospitals to provide educational and clinical practice supports for primary care physicians and specialty nurses caring for people with intellectual disabilities. These clinics would enable medical practitioners to gain experience in clinical conditions or other discomforts which are often expressed through challenging behaviour and often result in the patient being sedated without pain relief with the primary condition left undiagnosed.
We also propose travelling developmental specialists who can travel to regional areas which are often poorly served with such specialist services.
Health care providers need to adopt a lifespan approach that recognizes the progression or consequences of specific diseases and therapeutic interventions to assist care for people with intellectual disabilities of all ages. Identifying associated disabilities such as epilepsy, visual disorders and cerebral palsy should be a priority.
People with developmental disabilities should receive the same array of lifespan preventative health practices as those offered to the general population, which needs medical practioners trained to respond to the often complex abilities of the patient” [Helen Beange healthy aging adults with intellectual disability]
Medicare cards with embedded medical information as well as contact details of the persons responsible to assist health professionals when a patient presents in crisis are already technologically possible. Carers Alliance believes that we should use technology as a means to assist with early diagnosis and urgent admissions.
Developmental Disability Mental Health Care
Undiagnosed mental illness and medical conditions can have atypical presentations in people with limited language capabilities. People with developmental disabilities often need additional assistance to maintain mental health than the wider community. In Australia the importance of this issue is not sufficiently recognised. Currently very little is offered by way of mental health services for this group of people.
The rate of mental illness in the developmentally disabled is much wider than the general population (40%) and yet Australia offers very few services beyond mainstream psychiatry, and that can usually only be accessed in the private sector. Given that people with developmental disability are some of the poorest and marginalised in our society, this is an appalling indictment on all levels of Australian government.
Carers Alliance will continue to highlight to the government of the day the systemic neglect of mental health care for people with complex developmental disability. We will lobby for intensive mental health care to be provided within the public health system with stand alone wards that can offer physical protection and targeted services that assist, not only with responsive mental health outcomes but by providing ongoing support for community living.
It is imperative to train specialists in the promotion of mental health care and to prevent mental illness through a range of therapies and strategies. For people with development disabilities medication is often the therapy of first resort when other strategies can have better outcomes – the focus should be recovery. Incentives should be provided in the study and practice of psychiatry to encourage clinicians to undertake further studies in this field.