Learning disabilities and dementia

2. What is different about dementia in someone with a learning disability?

Dementia generally affects people with learning disabilities in similar ways to people without learning disabilities. However, there are some important differences. People with a learning disability:

  • are at greater risk of developing dementia at a younger age - particularly those with Down's syndrome
  • often show different symptoms in the early stages of dementia are more likely to have other physical health conditions which are not always well managed
  • are less likely to receive a correct or early diagnosis of dementia and may not be able to understand the diagnosis
  • may experience a more rapid progression of dementia, although this can be complicated by difficulty or delay in diagnosis
  • may have already learned different ways to communicate (eg more non-verbal communication if their disability affects speech)
  • may already be receiving social care in the family home, or be in a supported living environment, where they are given help to allow them to live independently
  • will need specific support to understand the changes they are experiencing, and to access appropriate services after diagnosis and as dementia progresses. These may be specialist services for those with a learning disability or general services for older people.