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Br J Psychiatry. 1997 Apr;170:375-80.

Epidemiology of psychiatric disorders in elderly compared with younger adults with learning disabilities.

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Rockingham Forest NHS Trust, St Mary's Hospital, Kettering, Northants.



The literature regarding psychiatric illness among elderly people with learning disabilities is limited and conflicting because of methodological differences. There have been no recent studies comparing psychiatric epidemiology between younger and older adults with learning disabilities, using the same methodology and definitions.


Comprehensive psychiatric examination using a semi-structured rating scale was undertaken on everyone with learning disabilities, aged 65 years or over (n = 134), living in a defined geographical area. Comparison was made with a randomly selected control group of adults with learning disabilities aged 20-65 years (n = 73) drawn from the same geographical area.


Elderly people with learning disabilities have a greater prevalence of psychiatric morbidity than younger controls (68.7 v. 47.9%). Rates for depression and anxiety disorders are high, and dementia is common: there are equal rates for schizophrenia/delusional disorders, autism and behaviour disorders in the two groups.


The higher psychiatric morbidity among elderly (compared with younger) people with learning disabilities has not previously received adequate recognition. This warrants further investigation by service planners and clinicians.

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