Saturday, January 8, 2011

Report: Disabled Australians are more likely to have added medical conditions -- or are they?

From Reportage Online:

Australians living with physical disability are more likely to contract medical conditions – or are they?

People with physical disabilities have earlier onsets of long-term medical conditions than those without disability, according to a study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

But there are concerns that the study only narrowly examined people with severe or profound disabilities, yielding an unreliable and inaccurate representation of the issue.

“They are missing a humongous pool of people who may also have a disability but have a mild to moderate limitation,” says Ruth Robinson, executive officer of the Physical Disability Council NSW.

Robinson also took offense at a section in the research paper that labelled people with dementia, Down syndrome, ADHD, cerebral palsy and autism as an institutionalised group.

She says that people with these illnesses are rarely institutionalised.

“I’m not certain that when this study was prepared there was a clear understanding of differences in disabilities,” she says. “They have done the quantitative research now they need the qualitative research to go with it.”

The research covers such long term medical conditions as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, osteoporosis, asthma and epilepsy.

“This was the first time we had the national data to look at the health status relevant to long term health conditions and also the health risk factors,” says chief scientist and coordinator of the study, Dr Xing Yan Wen.

Most medical conditions are secondary conditions, inter-related and brought on by a plethora of factors such as a person’s health condition, their environment, and personal life. They are not a simple consequence of physical disability, and to assume physical disability accounts for these medical conditions is misleading according to Dr Wen.

But when examining the behavioural lifestyles of those with physical disabilities, the report found that those with disability were more likely to be overweight, smoke and under-exercised, which might explain some casual relationship between disability and cardiovascular illness or diabetes.

“It may be interesting to explore whether people with severe or profound disability should be considered as one of the target population groups for targeted health screening programs and broad public health interventions in the control of obesity, physical inactivity, smoking and other health risk factors and behaviors,” says Dr Wen.

The study also discovered that more than half of the people who were physically disabled had mental illnesses, compared to the six per cent of those without physical disability.

More alarmingly 42 per cent had seriously thought about committing suicide, and of that number almost one in five had attempted suicide, showing a need for better disability services.

This study is the first of a series of bulletins by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare about the health of Australians with disabilities.

The second bulletin will look at the use of and inadequacies of health services amongst Australians with disability.

The report is expected to be released mid-2011.