Preventive health care is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for people with and without disabilities. For individuals with developmental disabilities, preventive health care can be even more essential. People with developmental disabilities may be at increased risk for conditions that relate to their disability. Often these conditions can be prevented with the proper care and health screenings. For example, people with limited mobility are at a greater risk for developing pressure sores, but with the proper preventive health care screenings early-stage pressure sores can be caught and treated before they become more serious health issues.
As a direct support professional, you can play an important role in ensuring that the individuals who you support receive high quality preventive health care on a regular basis.
Preventive Health Care Check-Ups
It is important for the individuals who you support to visit their primary care doctor on a regular basis. People often plan on seeing their health care provider only when they are sick or injured, but it is just as important for people to visit the doctor occasionally when they are well – for a preventive health care check-up.
In general, individuals with developmental disabilities should see their health care provider for a preventive health care check-up about once a year. As a direct support professional, you can help the individuals who you support to set up and go to this important appointment in a timely manner.
At a preventive health care check-up, the individual’s doctor will examine the person from head to toe and run health care screening tests to make sure that their overall health is good. The doctor should also have time to discuss any health concerns or questions that you or the individuals who you support have about their health.
If you attend doctor’s appointments with any of the individuals who you support, you can help the visit run smoothly by:
- Helping explain to the person what the doctor is doing
- Reminding the individual of questions they wanted to ask their health care provider
- Taking notes on any recommendations or instructions the doctor gives
If the person is generally healthy, the doctor will want to check the person again in another year or so. If the doctor discovers some concerns during his or her examination, a treatment plan will be developed and the doctor will work with you and the individual to help them improve their health.
The types of screening tests that take place at a preventive health care check-up will depend on the person’s age and their family history of different health conditions. For instance, people in their twenties and thirties will not usually need to have their hearing and vision screened on an annual basis, while people over age fifty generally will. Also, most women will not start having mammograms as part of their check-ups until about age forty. However, people who have a mother or sister who has or has had breast cancer will probably need screenings to begin earlier.
Encourage the individuals who you support to be honest and accurate with their health care providers about their health and about their family history of different health conditions. This will enable their doctor or nurse to conduct the most relevant health screening tests and catch potential health issues before they become serious.
Health Screening Guidelines
The table below presents some basic health screening guidelines. It is important to note that certain individuals (based on their family history, disability, or specific health complaints) may need to be screened earlier or more often than the table indicates.
|Height and Weight Measurement||Overweight or Obesity||Annually|
|Clinical Breast Exam||Breast Cancer||For women - starting at age 20, every 1 to 2 years|
|Mammogram||Breast Cancer||For women - starting at age 40, every 1 to 2 years|
|Pap Smear||Cervical Cancer||For women - starting when a woman becomes sexually active or when she turns 21, whichever comes first, every 1 to 3 years|
|PSA (Prostate Cancer Blood Screening)||Prostate Cancer||For men - starting at age 50, annually|
|Fecal Occult Blood Testing||Colon Cancer||Starting at age 50, every 5 years|
|Colonoscopy||Colon Cancer||Starting at age 50, every 5 years|
|STD Screening||Sexually Transmitted Diseases (especially chlamydia and gonorrhea)||For those who are sexually active - screen for chlamydia and gonorrhea annually|
|Cholesterol Test||High Cholesterol||
For men - starting at age 35, every 5 years
For women - starting at age 45, every 5 years
|Blood Glucose Test||Type II Diabetes||Every 5 years until age 45, every 3 years after age 45|
|Bone Density Test||Osteoporosis||For women - once at age 55 and annually after age 65|
|Vision and Hearing Screenings||Vision and Hearing Loss||Starting at age 50, annually|
Remember, a preventive health care check-up is a good time for you or the individuals who you support to bring up any concerns or questions about their health. Make sure you ask questions until you understand what the doctor is saying. By understanding the doctor’s instructions and recommendations, you will be able to support individuals as they work to improve their overall health.
An explanation of What You Should Know about Preventive Healthcare that you can use to educate the people who you support.
For more information on preventive health care, check out this resource:
- The Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services Adult Screening Recommendations Chart