Adults with learning disabilities

Content last reviewed: October 2017


Learning disability is described as a life-long condition which can develop before or    during birth or later in life because of a serious illness in early childhood.

There is a very wide spectrum of need within the learning disability population; these can range from mild to very complex and profound that will require continual care and support. A person with learning disability needs may also have a ‘secondary diagnosis’ which can include any combination of mental health, autism, physical disability, sensory disability, or other complex health conditions such as epilepsy, and may require continual and ongoing care and support to live with these conditions throughout their life. Some people with a learning disability may display challenging behavior which can have a negative effect on them and their families.

People with a learning disability may also have:

  • Profound and multiple learning disability (PMLD) this means they may also have other disabilities or conditions such as epilepsy, physical / sensory disability, neurological or other medical conditions.
  • Challenging or risky behaviour which may impact on their ability to access their community or services, due to high levels of risk posed to themselves and/or people around them.

Central Bedfordshire has a total population of 274,000 (Office of National Statistics - mid year estimate for 2015) and there were 4,885 adults estimated to have a learning disability, approximately 1.8% of the local population. This is expected to raise to 5,796 by 2030 an estimated increase of 2.2%. In comparison, the national average prevalence of learning disabilities in England is currently 2.4% per local authority population (1).

There is an increase in the number of children and young people with severe and complex conditions who are surviving into adulthood.  These individuals will require support when preparing for adulthood and transitioning into adult services.  Consequently more adults with complex health needs are living longer into old age with learning disabilities.

In terms of older people with learning disability, although numbers are relatively small the growth rate is high with a 25% expected increase from now to 2025.

Many people with a learning disability can live alone, cope with living independently, and maintain employment (2). However, others may need more intensive support with tasks such as eating, dressing and personal care. Although support needs may differ, we know that with the right support, people with learning disabilities can live full and meaningful lives. Without it, people are at risk of losing their independence, becoming socially isolated and unable to develop or maintain relationships with family and friends. Prevention is keyii.



(1) Projecting Older People Population Information System (POPPI).  Projecting Adult Needs and Service Information (PANSI)  

(2) Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) Prevention for people with learning disabilities. 


Last updated Friday, 3rd November 2017