Everyone has health needs from time to time. Whether it is a GP check-up, an optician or dental appointment, or an accidental injury, we all need to see medical professionals and ensure we are healthy. This is not always easy for people with learning disabilities (LD) though. Issues with communication and complex health needs mean that problems are harder to identify and routine healthcare can be overlooked.
Communication and showing pain
How do you tell someone that something hurts or you feel ill, if you can’t communicate effectively? This is the problem that many people with learning disabilities have. Health problems can be hard enough to explain at the best of times. Where is the pain, what kind of pain is it, do you feel sick, dizzy or more tired than usual? For someone who is non-verbal or has difficulty communicating, these are hard concepts to get across.
Carers of people with learning disabilities need to understand the different ways in which they may show pain. These can include displaying challenging behaviour and even trying to hurt themselves or others. Conversely, pain may also be displayed by becoming withdrawn and quiet. Any changes in behaviour need to be questioned rather than discounted.
Annual health checks and action plans
Annual health checks are an important part of managing the health needs of people with learning disabilities. Because people with LD don’t always recognise symptoms of illness, it’s the place of the GP to run a series of tests to check for potential health issues. The annual health check covers a wide range of things from checks such as skin condition and blood pressure to heart health and blood tests. A medication review should be undertaken as well, to ensure the person is taking the correct medications for their situation.
A health check should be followed up with a health action plan. This outlines any changes that need to be made to the person’s lifestyle to support their health. It may mention things like diet changes or ways to further their health education.
Hospital visits for people with LD
A hospital visit is stressful and confusing for anyone, so for people with learning disabilities, it can be a difficult experience. The unfamiliar environment combined with struggling to understand what is happening can make it frightening. There are things that can be done to ease the situation, though.
A hospital passport is something that all people with learning disabilities should have. It contains details about their disabilities, their health conditions, the ways in which they communicate, and how to make things easier for them. Most hospitals have a nurse liaison who can make sure the person’s stay in the hospital is as easy as possible. If the hospital visit is planned, it’s a good idea to set up a meeting with this nurse beforehand.
Residents at our learning disabilities care home in Uckfield, East Sussex, can rely on our support team to look after their health. Our team is trained in a variety of communication techniques and aware of the different ways pain may be shown. Carers know the residents well and can recognise when a change of behaviour or facial expression may indicate the person is in pain. We have a variety of ways to ease the pain when needed, from massage or heat pads to medication.
We will ensure any actions in a health plan following an annual health check are followed up. If a resident needs to plan a hospital visit, we help them to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible.
If you would like to enquire about residential care for a loved one, please visit our website for more information.