Life expectancy and causes of death of people with learning disabilities


Although the life expectancy of people with learning disabilities has increased in recent years, it is still considered to remain lower than that of the general population. A systematic review was undertaken in order to identify the gaps and strengths of this evidence.

The aim of this systematic review was to identify the causes of death and  life expectancy of people with learning disabilities.

What we did

The review was registered with the International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews (Prospero), registration number CRD42015020161. Five electronic databases (CINAHL, MEDLINE, PsychINFO, Web of Science, and EMBASE) were searched for key words relating to intellectual disability AND death.

Titles and abstracts were assessed using strict inclusion/exclusion criteria (5% were assessed by a second researcher). Full papers were then assessed for eligibility. Information relating to design, demographics, data source, method of analysis, findings and limitations was extracted, tabulated and reviewed using narrative analysis.

What we found

A total of 17,828 potentially relevant articles were identified from database searching. N=25 of these studies met the inclusion criteria. Analysis of these studies revealed that individuals with learning disabilities had lower life expectancy than the general population. Higher mortality rates were pronounced in specific subgroups such as females and individuals with severe/profound learning disabilities. The majority of studies were limited by the fact that they relied on administration data and did not undertake age-matched comparisons with the general population.

Next steps

Studies reviewed demonstrate a lower life expectancy among the learning disability population, in comparison to the general population. Further population based and age matched cohort studies are needed in order to ascertain life expectancy of the entire learning disability population.

Click here to contact us about this project. Publications associated with this research include O’Leary, L., Hughes-McCormack, L., Cooper, S-A. (2017) Life expectancy and causes of death of people with intellectual disabilities: a systematic review. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, DOI: 10.1111/jar.12417

Page updated 7 July 2020