Scientists say COVID was the leading cause of death in 2020 for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

(ORDO NEWS) — The authors of a new peer-reviewed paper found that COVID is the leading cause of death for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in 2020.

In the study “COVID-19 Mortality Burden and Comorbidity Patterns Among Decedents with and without Intellectual and Developmental Disability in the US” death certificate data for 2020 was examined to analyze the pattern of mortality among people with and without IDD.

They found that in those with intellectual disabilities, COVID was the third leading cause of death, after heart disease and cancer. But for people with developmental disabilities (IDD), COVID was the number one cause of death.

IDD are diseases characterized by impairments in mobility, language, learning, self-care and independent living throughout life. Examples are Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and mental retardation.

Syracuse University associate professor Scott Landes, lead author of the paper published in the Disability and Health Journal, said the study confirmed earlier predictions that COVID-19 would be more deadly among people with IDD.

“Even adjusting for age, gender, and minority racial/ethnic status, we found that COVID-19 is much more deadly for people with IDD than for people without IDD,” Landes said. “What’s more, people with IDD were dying at a much younger age.”

The research team included Landes, professor at the Institute for Aging Studies at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University; Julia Finan, PhD student in the Department of Sociology at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University; and Dr. Margaret Turk, Distinguished Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at SUNY Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, New York.

To understand why the burden of COVID-19 is greater for people with IDD, researchers believe more attention needs to be paid to comorbidities as well as living conditions.

“People with IDD live in crowded places at a higher percentage of the time than people without IDD,” says Landes. “Group living conditions, especially when there is close contact with personal care, are associated with the spread of COVID-19.”

For the approximately 13-20 percent of adults with IDD living in such settings, the risk cannot be overestimated.”

“While it is important to consider differences in comorbidity patterns, it must also be understood that the increased burden of COVID-19 among people with IDD may be at least partly due to social factors, such as a higher proportion of this population living in group care settings, insufficient attention to care needs at the public and private levels, as well as disparities in access to quality healthcare,” Landes said.

In addition, the researchers noted a higher prevalence of hypothyroidism and seizures among all IDD statuses, as well as obesity among those who died with mental retardation and Down syndrome.

“As a precaution, healthcare professionals should closely monitor symptoms in COVID-19 patients diagnosed with hypothyroidism and/or seizures.”

However, the researchers say more research is needed to examine these social factors in order to better understand the death rate from COVID-19 among people with IDD.

In addition, the authors note that the study is focused on the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Existing data disparities to list IDD as the cause of death make it difficult to understand whether people with IDD continue to experience a disproportionate burden of COVID-19.

“This prevents adequate health surveillance of this marginalized population during the ongoing pandemic. While changes to the coding and revision process of death certificates are needed to address this issue in the long term, in the short term, the CDC must recognize this injustice and take the necessary measures to enable the analysis of current death certificate data at the decease level for this population,” Landes said.


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