Are residential support workers meeting the health needs of older people with learning disabilities?

Authors: Dr Robert Jenkins, Professor Ruth Northway and Dr Daniella Holland-Hart

Internationally there is growing evidence that people with intellectual disabilities experience inequalities in health but despite this their life expectancy is increasing. This means that they may experience many of the health problems associated with ageing. However, whilst they are often dependent upon other people to support their access to health care little is known about whether residential support workers are equipped to support older people with intellectual disabilities who develop health problems.

The aim of this study, funded by the National Institute for Social Care and Health Research, was to determine the training and support that is currently provided regarding health needs for residential support workers involved in supporting older people with intellectual disabilities.

Qualitative and quantitative methods were used. This included interviewing 14 social care managers in the first stage and then sending out around 2000 questionnaires to residential support workers across Wales.

Key themes emerged in the first stage including training, general health and ageing issues, access to healthcare, interactions with health services, organisational issues and relationships with tenants. These themes were then used when developing the questionnaire.

Both stages revealed that the training provided is often inconsistent across and within organisations. Training often takes place subsequent to the diagnosis of a health issue rather than proactively in order for health problems to be identified at an early stage. There also needs to be much more integration between health and social care provision.

Our conclusions were that proactive educational and organisational interventions are required in both social care and health settings if better health is to be promoted for people with intellectual disabilities.