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Mother and daughter in wheelchair

Learning disabilities

Around 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning disability.

 A learning disability is defined as:

  • a significant intellectual impairment
  • with difficulties in meeting their own needs
  • and began before the age of 18.
Some conditions are commonly associated with learning disabilities, such as Down Syndrome, Autism, and Cerebral Palsy. Although having these conditions alone does not mean the person will also have learning disabilities, and many people have learning disabilities with no known cause.

Historically, people with learning disabilities were cared for in large institutional settings and segregated from their local communities. Today, people with learning disabilities are included in their local communities. Many people will have their own property, whilst others may live in shared/supported housing schemes or residential care. They access the same community and health services as everyone else, and therefore you may meet people with learning disabilities wherever you work.

Learning disabilities are often accompanied by complex needs, including complex health needs. People with learning disabilities die 20-30 years younger than the rest of the population. Most people with learning disabilities experience other long term conditions, with 46% of people experiencing 7 or more long term conditions. 98% of people with learning disabilities have been prescribed medication, and the average number of medications a person with learning disabilities is prescribed is 6.2. (LeDeR programme annual report 2020)

Identifying and treating the health needs of people with learning disabilities can be complicated by communication difficulties, unusual presentations of symptoms, and diagnostic overshadowing.

Registered Nurses in Learning Disabilities are specifically trained to meet the holistic health needs of people with learning disabilities. This may be through direct intervention or facilitating other services to meet their needs. These clinical pages are for Registered Nurses in Learning Disabilities and to support all nursing team members to meet the needs of people with learning disabilities.

Related to learning disabilities:

Professional lead for learning disabilities:

Meet the team

Get to know the Learning Disability Nursing Forum committee members.

Connecting for Change

This publication explores contemporary issues concerning the field of learning disability nursing and sets out a series of recommendations and priorities that the UK government and devolved administrations need to address.