Wellness means something different to all of us depending on our life stage and individual health needs, which is why a holistic approach to being healthy is important. We hear frequent messages about the importance of physical activity and nutrition, but having social connections and meaningful activities in our lives are also important to good health. According to research, these are as important as being active and eating nutritious meals.

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities sometimes experience challenges with having access to the same health and wellness activities that people without disabilities have. Universal design is important to allow everyone the opportunity to participate in wellness programs. Health promotion should address more than individual choices, but also the social structure that causes barriers to everyone’s ability to participate.

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Health disparities

Health involves more than just the things we do to take care of ourselves; it is also affected by where we live and work. The quality of our air, personal safety in our communities, and social isolation also affect our health, in ways that we often cannot control. Having inequalities in social determinants of health can lead to health disparities.

Health disparities are differences in health because someone experiences health inequalities. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities may have health disparities such as increased risk of chronic disease (such as heart disease or diabetes) and early death. People with IDD often have less access to public health efforts and experience a lack of appropriate health care because health care providers do not receive enough training on working with people with IDD effectively. 

Actions that would improve the health of people with I/DD include:

  • Addressing the needs of people with IDD in public health efforts;
  • Ensuring that healthcare providers receive training about supporting people with IDD; and,
  • Helping community agencies that provide health and wellness services (such as gyms) learn more about including people with IDD into their programs.

End of life planning

Awareness of the need to address end-of-life and palliative care has increased in recent years in the general population as well as for people with IDD. This kind of care may be needed when a person has life-threatening or life-limiting conditions. Often people think about this as the last six months of life. People with IDD are often left out of conversations about what their wishes are. Medical providers or other caregivers do not have clear, consistent, and ethically sound guidelines that assist them in providing end-of-life or palliative care for people with IDD.

People with IDD and those who care about them should discuss what sorts of end-of-life care they would like to receive. Advance directives are documents that tell medical and other providers what kind of end-of-life care a person wants. People with IDD have the right to have an advance directive, though few of them have one. Information should be provided in a clear and concrete way that supports people with IDD to make their wishes known as much as possible.