Executive summary for carers

STANDARDS OF PRACTICE FOR PHYSIOTHERAPISTS working with adults with a learning disability

Executive summary outlining the role of the specialist  learning disability physiotherapist for carers of adults with a learning disability.

Definition of Specialist Learning Disability Physiotherapists: 

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"Learning disability physiotherapists provide specialist assessment, treatment and management to adults with a learning disability whose needs cannot be successfully met by mainstream services, even when reasonable adjustments are made. Physiotherapists will work in collaboration with the person, their network of care, mainstream health services, and the multidisciplinary team to enhance, optimise and maintain the person’s physical presentation, function and quality of life."

Adults with a learning disability experience poorer health than the general population. They have a shorter life expectancy and are at greater risk of premature death. Adults with a learning disability have the same rights to access mainstream health services as the general population but they regularly receive inadequate health care.

All public services, including the health sector, have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments. Most adults with a learning disability will be able to access mainstream services with reasonable adjustments. Some adults will require adjustments that go beyond what is possible for mainstream service and will require access to specialist learning disability services.

There are many reasons why an adult with a learning disability may develop a physiotherapy related need. These include:

  • having a physical or neurological disability such as cerebral palsy
  • the impact of the person’s physical and neurological disability such as increased risk of injuries and falls, and premature aging
  • the person’s learning disability and cognitive impairment
  • making poor lifestyle choices, such as leading inactive and unhealthy lifestyles
  • poor access to healthcare

Learning disability physiotherapists make the specialist adjustments required to provide physiotherapy to adults with a learning disability whose needs cannot be successfully met by mainstream services, even when reasonable adjustments are made. Either through supporting positive access to and responses from services; or by providing direct assessment and intervention.

Physiotherapists are an integral part of specialist learning disability teams and are critical to meeting the physiotherapy needs of adults with a learning disability. There is widespread evidence and opinion that the proactive specialist physiotherapy has a positive impact on the health outcomes; quality of care; and experiences of the adult with a learning disability and their care network.

Sarah Bruce, Lead Clinician Physiotherapist and David Standley, Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist