Individuals With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities More Likely to Contract COVID-19

Individuals With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities More Likely to Contract COVID-19

June 15, 20202 min read

Recent news coverage has indicated that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD) are more likely than those without ID/DD to contract COVID-19 and to die as a result of it.

"Similar to other individuals with disability, those with ID/DD often have pre-existing health conditions that increase their risk," says Suzanne C. Smeltzer, EdD, RN, the Richard and Marianne Kreider Endowed Professor in Nursing for Vulnerable Populations at Villanova University's M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing.

Some people with ID/DD live in group settings in which they come in contact with others who may be infected with COVID-19. The frequent turnover of personal assistants and contact of persons with ID/DD with multiple personal assistants may increase the risk of COVID-19 in part because of their exposure to multiple potential carriers and the need for many of their personal assistants to use public transportation.

Dr. Smeltzer says, "There is also concern in the disability community, among family members of individuals with disability and among disability advocates that those with these disabilities will be viewed as less deserving of more aggressive therapies, such as ventilators. The quality of life of persons with ID/DD may be considered by others as low, even though quality of life can only be judged by the people themselves."

Initial limitations put in place in many health care institutions included the exclusion of family members and other support persons because of risk for COVID-19 infection. However, a groundswell of advocacy resulted in changes in this policy because individuals with ID/DD hospitalized during the COVID-19 pandemic were being deprived of essential support.

"These support persons are needed to help those with ID/DD understand what was happening in the hectic health care settings and to help with communication and decision making," says Dr. Smeltzer. "Individuals with ID/DD need the same care as others and must receive explanations about their care and must be allowed to participate in making decisions about their care."

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