I and Dr. Seth Keller are the co-chairs of the National Task Group on Intellectual Disabilities and Dementia Practices (NTG). The NTG is an affiliate of the American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry and is associated with the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Developmental Disabilities and Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago (http://www.aadmd.org/ntg).
While we were recently discussing the role of the NTG with respect to the Council, it struck us that many Council members may not know why we are here and why we make comments to the Council -- and what are our 'wants'. The NTG was formed in 2010, just before the passage of the National Alzheimer's Plan Act, with a stated mission to advocate for people with intellectual disability affected by dementia and their families and other caregivers. When the NAPA Council came into being, it was opportune for us to have a voice at the national level on behalf of a critical segment of adults affected by Alzheimer's disease and other neurocognitive conditions resulting in dementia.
There are many causes of intellectual disability, some genetic, some due to disease, and some social or environmental. Among the genetic causes, Down syndrome is the one most commonly associated with dementia as adults with Down syndrome are at high risk of Alzheimer's disease and generally manifest early onset dementia. In the United States, it is generally acknowledged that although most persons with an intellectual disability are affected by dementia to the same degree as other adults in the general population, some may be affected earlier and at a greater rate.
The Alzheimer's Association estimates that currently some 5.2 million Americans are affected by dementia, many of whom have Alzheimer's disease. Of these, some 200,000 affected adults are under the age of 65. This includes adults with Down syndrome, many of who are among those 200,000 adults affected with 'early-onset dementia'. Generally, it is believed that about 6% of adults with an intellectual disability will be affected by some form of dementia after the age of 60 (with the percentage increasing with age). For adults with Down syndrome, at least 25% will be affected with dementia after age 40 and at least 50 to 70% will be affected with dementia after age 60. With respect to numbers, it has been projected that there may be at least 54,000 adults with an intellectual disability and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia in the United States, and that the number of such adults affected by dementia would most likely triple over the coming years.1 Studies have also shown that some 33,000 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and dementia are currently living at home with older or other family caregivers. While the number may seem modest with respect to the 5.2 million overall cited by the Alzheimer's Association, these 54,000 comprise a group with high dependencies and a high impact on caregivers, many of whom may have been providing lifelong care. They also represent adults whose needs will have an impact on national long-term care resources as they are Medicaid eligible.
With increased life expectancy and greater numbers of aging people due to the 'baby boom' effect, the number of older at-risk adults will increase significantly over the next twenty years -- as will the prevalence of dementia. The Alzheimer's Association projects that the number of older persons affected by Alzheimer's disease will to about 7.7 million by 2030. This growth also will be mirrored among older adults with an intellectual disability.
There are many similarities in needs between adults with intellectual disability affected by dementia and other adults similarly affected. Both need targeted early detection, diagnostic services, counseling, aid with planning for the future, housing assistance, care management, supports for caregivers, and other special services as dementia progresses.
There are, however, some differences as well. The NTG and other intellectual disability organizations, such as the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, National Down Syndrome Society and The Arc, have noted that
- After a lifetime of coping with and adapting to a lifelong disability, dementia can have a particularly devastating impact on adults with an intellectual disability as well as on their families, friends, housemates, and services' providers who have been providing key long-term supports and care.
- Primary care and supports for adults with an intellectual disability affected by dementia can and should be provided within the community and that appropriate services, when available, can preclude inappropriate institutional admissions.
- State and local developmental disabilities' agencies, the primary resources of specialized services, can help by planning and budgeting for supports of in-community care of adults with an intellectual disability affected by dementia, including help for their family and other caregivers.
- Specialized assessment and diagnostic resources are effective in identifying dementia among adults with an intellectual disability and their use should be expanded.
- Knowledge and training in late-life problems, including dementia, of adults with an intellectual disability are often lacking among primary care health providers in community practice and this deficit can be an impediment to early detection and provision of appropriate interventions.
- Specialized trainings instituted nationally, using workshops, webinars, and other teaching methods, can advance the knowledge and skills among health and social care workers and clinicians working with adults with an intellectual disability affected by dementia.
Now, to the point of why we appear before the Council. We believe that these distinctness areas deserve due consideration by the Advisory Council on Alzheimer's Research, Care, and Services and their remedies warrant inclusion in the National Plan updates -- especially as this group is one of the 'populations disproportionally affected' noted in the original National Plan.2 Further, we ask that the Council recognize that dementia has a particularly devastating impact on people with an intellectual disability and their friends, families and the staff who may be involved with them as advocates and caregivers -- and give this population and its needs due consideration in the Council's deliberations. The National Task Group believes that the federal Council should continue to include -- and expand on -- concerns and considerations for people with intellectual disabilities in its annual updates of the National Plan. To this end, the National Task Group stands ready to assist and contribute to such efforts.
- 'My Thinker's Not Working': A National Strategy for Enabling Adults with Intellectual Disabilities Affected by Dementia to Remain in Their Community and Receive Quality Supports. National Task Group on Intellectual Disabilities and Dementia Practice. (2012). http://www.aadmd.org/ntg/thinker
- National Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease. US Department of Health and Human Services. (2012).