What is the research about?

Most people with Intellectual Disability (ID) are now living much longer than they would have in the previous generation.  The advent of new interventions and therapies has increased their life expectancy, and made treatable conditions that would have severely impaired them or caused their deaths.  To help plan for their treatment and care in old age, it is important to know how the causes of ID affect general functioning, and what diseases persons with ID tend to develop as they age.   This literature review examined these issues in persons with several different genetic conditions that are characterized by the presence of ID.

What did the researchers do?

The authors conducted a review of literature on aging and life expectancy in persons with ID by searching PUBMED from 1990 to 2010.  They identified reviews with relevant data on persons with Down Syndrome, Angelman Syndrome, Williams Syndrome, Prader-Willi Syndrome, Fragile-X, and several other conditions in which ID is a characteristic

What did the researchers find?

Life expectancy among persons with ID has increased at the same rates as those of the general population, but with severity of the intellectual disability associated with shorter life span.  Aging seems to start earlier in persons with ID, although the cause is not known.  Compared to the general population, they generally have higher rates of obesity, deafness and visual impairment, hypothyroidism, epilepsy, mental health and behavioural problems, frailty, and early onset of dementia. Like the general population, persons with ID are most likely to die from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and cancer.

Take home message

Since the mid-20th century multiple effective medical interventions have resulted in higher survival rates for people with ID that mirror those of the general population.  Their life expectancy, though, is usually lower. Persons with ID tend to die from the same diseases afflicting the general population.  Research is needed to understand the factors that affect healthy aging in this group of people and to ensure appropriate services and treatments are available to them.


The original Research Report was written by A.M.W Coppus and was published in Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews. 2013.