Myths busting for Learning Disability week

The theme of this year’s “Learning Disability (LD) week” (19-23 June) is busting myths and our LD team wants to help break down misconceptions about people with learning disabilities and shine a light on the stigma many might still face.

“We know that a lot of people are not fully aware of what living with a learning disability means and the barriers they may face in healthcare settings,” said Tara Webster, Learning Disability and Autism Specialist Nurse.

“We hope to debunk some of the most common myths to help patients receive better care.”

People with LD have higher pain thresholds or do not express pain

“We hear this statement frequently and while it can be true that our patients do not always readily express pain, there is little evidence to suggest that they do not feel pain in the same way as others,” added Tara.

“Unfortunately, sometimes the ways in which our patients express their feelings can be misunderstood or unrecognised. This means a risk of leaving patients at risk of undertreatment, deterioration and prolonged distress.

“It is important to consider ‘softer signs’ of pain which usually consist of non-verbal cues and changes in behaviours. We offer supportive tools and train colleagues to be able to quickly recognise when patients are in pain and support them to mitigate risks.”

People with LD cannot communicate, nor participate in decisions about their care meaningfully

“This can be linked to difficulties in obtaining meaningful information from our patients, rather than them having an inability to provide information about their care,” said Fiona Springall, Children and Young People’s Learning Disability and Autism Specialist Nurse.

“Most of our patients can express preferences: things they do/do not like, even on a non-verbal or reactive level, which does represent meaningful information in relation to most decisions to be made while they’re in hospital.

“For example, if they have reacted adversely to having a certain type of treatment in the past, this could be interpreted that they would not wish for this to be repeated or that the process needs alteration with consideration to what they previously found challenging.

“What is important to a person should always be discussed to gain an insight of their preferences and how this can be applied to their care while in hospital.

“Knowing this allows us to balance all of the meaningful information and ensures that clinical decisions are person-centred and made in the best-interest of the patient.”

People with LD cannot tolerate invasive treatments

“It is sometimes assumed that it is kinder not to put patients through procedures which could cause distress or discomfort. Of course, procedures can be difficult for all of us, and we would always advocate that patients with learning disabilities and autistic patients have the same right to treatment as others,” said Lydia Smith, Learning Disability Nurse Matron.

“It is always important to know and consider the circumstances specific to every single patient to determine the best course of action.

“Our team purpose is to remove any potential access issues or barriers to improve access and equity of care.

“Colleagues should always ask how somebody can be supported to access treatment and how the procedure can be adjusted.”

Read more information on LD week.

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