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Caring for People With Intellectual Disabilities During COVID-19: 4 Tips for Healthcare Professionals

In this interview for QuickTake by Bloomberg, SOI Chief Health Officer Dr. Alicia Bazzano discusses why people with intellectual disabilities are at a higher risk for COVID-19, and why maintaining proper hygiene and finding ways to remain active are so important.

While people with intellectual disabilities are at an increased risk of respiratory disease, influenza and pneumonia, “The most important risk is not their underlying condition, but the lack of access to healthcare,” noted Dr. Bazzano.

In addition, more than 80% of healthcare professionals are not trained to treat people with intellectual disabilities. Dr. Bazzano offers 4 important tips for promoting inclusive health that ensure all people can get the care they need.

Tip 1: Use plain language and meaningful words when speaking with people with intellectual disabilities.

Explain medical terminology in accessible, simple terms that they can understand. Avoid jargon, acronyms, and abstract statements.

Tip 2: Make sure that people with intellectual disabilities have a support person.

A support person plays a crucial role in helping to remember what was said during the medical visit, and what steps to take next. But remember to address your patient when speaking, not their support person.

Tip 3: Prepare people with intellectual disabilities for procedures and tests.

Doctor’s appointments can be scary, overwhelming, and anxiety-inducing. Whenever possible, set expectations by explaining and demonstrating what will happen, such as the COVID-19 nasal swab test.

Tip 4: Ensure that people with intellectual disabilities are able to understand and discuss their treatments.

It’s critical that they walk away from their appointments knowing how to properly take medications or safely quarantine, for example.

COVID-19 Intellectual Disability Resources for Caregivers and Healthcare Professionals

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