Why Are People With Developmental Disabilities at Higher Risk for Injury?

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Safe_at_home_Ryan_Cooking2People with disabilities are being encouraged and assisted to live in the most integrated settings in their communities. Many are now choosing to live independently or semi-independently, with less intensive supervision and supports.  While this choice is a great one for most, it also places them at higher risk for injury.

People with intellectual disabilities are 4 to 6 times more likely than the general population to die in a fire, a fall, or from drowning (Strauss, 1999), and studies have found that 75% of injuries to young people with an intellectual disability occur at home (Sherrard et al. 2001).

Most of the risk factors for people with developmental disabilities are similar to the larger population, and include environmental risk in their homes and daily life such as tripping hazards, unsafe footwear (slippery, not properly sized, or with heels or other features that make them unstable); poor lighting, especially on stairs; lack of handrails on stairs, and lack of smoke alarms and CO detectors. All of these risks can be reduced—but awareness of these risks and the motivation to do something about them are critical. Risk awareness and motivation are key elements in Community Health Strategies’ Safety for People With Disabilities workshops.

People with disabilities share many risk factors with other populations that are also at higher-than-average risk for injury:  young children, and older adults. Young children are placed at risk by impulsiveness and inattention, as well as their own inability to understand risk, and limited problem solving. Older adults experience such risk factors as mobility challenges, conditions affecting balance, and side effects of medications or multiple medications. These factors can especially affect falls. Adults of all ages with intellectual or developmental disabilities have the same risk of falling as does the general population over age 65.

Other factors that can increase risk of injury include epilepsy and behavioral problems, as well as the medications used to treat these conditions.

Injury Research on People with Developmental Disabilities

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