It's no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected certain populations disproportionately, one of those is an extremely vulnerable population, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
Individuals with IDDs are facing much higher mortality rates due to COVID-19 and to make issues worse, they often have a difficult time communicating to healthcare providers or caregivers when they aren’t feeling well.
According to Dr. Craig Escudé, a board-certified Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Developmental Medicine they may be at an increased risk because of the increased exposure they often have. Support staff may be coming in and out of their homes, helping with the daily activities of daily living which in turn increases exposure.
"People also are at more risk for dying from COVID because many people with disabilities have comorbid conditions that include things like diabetes, higher incidences of diabetes, of obesity, of lung disease and we know that all of these things increase the risk of death should you get COVID," said Dr. Escudé.
Another factor that goes hand in hand is that people with disabilities don't always communicate with their words, so it can make it very difficult for them to express what or how they're feeling.
"They often express these things through various behaviors," Dr. Escudé explains. "And if you're not aware that people with disabilities communicate through behaviors and don't understand what those behaviors might be indicating, it's very easy to kind of blow it off and say, 'oh, they're just behaving this way because they have a disability' without looking further at a possible underlying medical cause."
Escudé says that really falls on the support staff and healthcare providers to understand the different ways with how people with disabilities communicate so that they can better make better diagnoses and treatment plans to help them.
"We have less people that have received experience or training in this field of health, professional schools in particular don't necessarily train people. Most of them don't provide any training on healthcare specifically related to providing care for people with disabilities and that's a real issue that is being addressed slowly," Escudé said.
He explained organizations are beginning to promote education for people with disabilities in medical schools and nursing schools, and then there's the company Health Risk Screening. Escudé is the CEO of the company.
"That's one of our primary focuses, to help people recognize health risks and know what to do to prevent those risks," he said. "We actually have a tool that does exactly that...that asks questions that screens people for health risks, helps to identify them and then it gives them action steps on what to do."
They've also recently developed a program specifically to train healthcare providers, such as physicians and nurses, to understand the nuances of healthcare and how to provide better healthcare for people with disabilities. This is now available in an online training program that can be accessed by any physician or nurse.
If you would like more information on the training program, you can find that information here.