Health and Challenging Behaviour: Summary
Children and adults with learning disabilities are more likely to have physical and mental health problems than the general population.
There are many reasons for health problems in children and adults with learning disabilities. These include:
- Certain syndromes are linked to certain illnesses (e.g., Down syndrome is linked to heart defects)
- Struggling to explain feeling unwell to others
- Struggling to follow treatment
- Struggling to complete daily hygiene tasks, leading to infection
- Poor diet and lack of exercise
- Doctors and nurses lack experience in working with people with learning disabilities
Certain illnesses and health problems are very common amongst people with learning disabilities. These include:
- Respiratory disease
- Coronary heart disease
- Sensory impairments (e.g., vision or hearing)
- Mental health problems
It is sometimes difficult to work out if challenging behaviour is due to mental health problems or if it is a learned behaviour. This can lead to medication for mental health problems being wrongly prescribed.
There is little evidence to show that medication for mental health problems helps reduce challenging behaviour displayed by people with learning disabilities. It can also cause a number of problems, including:
- Severe adverse side effects that may be irreversible
- An increase in challenging behaviour
- Sedation of the individual meaning they cannot take part in community activities
- Suppression of adaptive behaviours
- Unnecessary long term use if the medication produces desired behaviour
It is vital to think about health problems when assessing why a person is displaying challenging behaviour.
If an individual is in pain, they are more likely to display challenging behaviour. If this behaviour gets the child or adult what they want, they may be more likely to display it in the future.
To download the full version of the Challenging Behaviour Foundation information sheet “Health and Challenging Behaviour”, by Diane Langridge, Nurse Consultant for Challenging Behaviour, South Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust click here.