B.C. Special Olympics athlete, Jake Hooper, and his sister Caitlin are concerned about the impact COVID-19 is having on people with intellectual disabilities. (Courtesy of Caitlin Hooper)

B.C. Special Olympics athlete, Jake Hooper, and his sister Caitlin are concerned about the impact COVID-19 is having on people with intellectual disabilities. (Courtesy of Caitlin Hooper)

Pandemic raises stakes for B.C. residents with intellectual disabilities

Untrained health care workers can jeopardize lives of people with ID

People with intellectual disabilities (ID) already face challenges in accessing adequate health care, and those in the field say with an ongoing global pandemic, the stakes are far higher.

The primary issue is communication, according to a Special Olympics BC program manager. “It’s often difficult for these individuals to describe what their pain is or what’s bothering them,” Michelle Cruickshank said. “For medical professionals, who don’t know them personally or don’t have a good idea of how to coax that information from them, to be able to properly care and diagnose is very difficult.”

Over 80 per cent of health care professionals haven’t received training on how to treat people with ID, according to Special Olympics International.

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Now that in-person appointments are a rare occurrence, communication is even more strained. Megan Pollock, Special Olympics BC communications manager, said they are fearful that people with ID aren’t receiving critical information around the prevention and symptoms of COVID-19.

Another fear is mental health.

B.C. Special Olympics athlete, Jake Hooper, and his sister Caitlin Hooper. (Courtesy of Caitlin Hooper)

“People with intellectual disabilities often have quite a few anxieties and we have found that mental health has been slacking,” said Caitlin Hooper whose brother, Jake Hooper, competes in the Special Olympics.

“It can be a little troubling at times,” Jake said. “I’m used to having those connections and due to all this COVID stuff it’s been kind of weary.”

Regardless of COVID-19, Cruickshank said it is often hard to motivate a person with ID to engage in many of the things that are beneficial to mental health, such as healthy eating and physical activity. Now, there’s the added barrier of not being able to motivate them in person.

“Now we can’t go and get someone for a walk or make a healthy meal together,” Cruickshank said.

As with many things, COVID-19 has highlighted what were already long-neglected issues, they said. Now, with the lives of people with ID at greater risk, Pollock said B.C.’s elected officials need “to step forward and create essential and lasting change.”

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