Intellectually Disabled

This information is for the family or carer of a person who has an intellectual disability.

People with a learning disability are living longer. Many will live into old age with diseases such as cancer or dementia. They also may come into contact with someone close to them who is dying. Issues around death and dying may not be easy to understand. You may need to explain what is happening and what they need to do. There are some resources below that may help.

All people need support during a serious illness or when someone has died. This may come from family members or from health professionals. The following Information may be helpful to read about how to communicate with someone who has an intellectual disability. It also has information about making decisions on behalf of someone with an intellectual disability. You could show it to your health professionals.

The person that you know with an intellectual disability may live with their family. They may also live independently, or in a group home or care facility. Usually when someone is ill they develop symptoms or signs that something is wrong. Someone with an intellectual disability may not be able to tell you what is wrong. You may see a change in their mood or how they behave. It is important to explain to health professionals what is different from their normal behaviour.

Some people with an intellectual disability live with elderly parents who may become too frail to care. They may die before their children. People with an intellectual disability are less likely to have a spouse or adult child to care for them. As they grow older their closest family members are likely to be a brother or sister, or a more distant relative.

You may not know much about palliative care or when to refer. This may be a difficult decision. The person has had these disabilities for a long time, so you may not see that much has changed. On the other hand, someone who doesn’t know the person very well may want to refer to palliative care immediately. They may just see someone who is severely disabled. You need to talk to health professionals about this.

These booklets may help you to talk to someone who has an intellectual disability. They are about getting older and about dying. They were written for people with Down’s syndrome, but can help anyone with an intellectual disability (as appropriate).


Last updated 23 January 2017