COVID-19 was the leading cause of death among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD's) in 2020. The corresponding study was published in the Disability and Health Journal.
IDD's are characterized by life-long impairments in mobility, language, learning, self-care, and independent living. They include Downs Syndrome, cerebral palsy, and intellectual disabilities. Although evidence suggests that people with IDDs have an increased COVID-19 mortality risk, until now, little to no research has investigated whether comorbidity patterns were distinct for people with IDD.
In the current study, researchers analyzed 2020 US death certificate data alongside COVID-19 mortality burden and comorbidity patterns among those with and without an IDD. They found that among those without an IDD, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in 2020. However, for those with an IDD, COVID-19 was the leading cause of death.
While they noted that comorbidities resulting from COVID-19 were similar among those with and without an IDD, they wrote that those with an IDD who died from COVID-19 had notably higher rates of hypothyroidism and seizures than those without an IDD. They also noted higher levels of obesity among those with an intellectual disability or Down's syndrome.
The researchers said that the increased COVID-19 burden among those with an IDD, may be partially due to social factors, including a higher proportion of those with IDDs living in group care settings, and inequities in access to quality healthcare.
The researchers concluded, however, that more research is needed to understand how social factors may influence COVID-19 death rates among those with an IDD. They also noted that a current data inequity that allows an IDD to be reported as a cause of death might impede understanding of whether people with an IDD are more likely to die from COVID-19.
"This is preventing adequate surveillance of the health of this marginalized population during the ongoing pandemic," said lead author of the paper, Scott Landes, Associate Professor of Sociology at Syracuse University.
"While changes are needed to the death certificate coding and revision process to address this data inequity in the long-term, in the immediate, the CDC will need to recognize this inequity and take necessary action to allow for analysis of current death certificate data at the decedent level for this population," he noted.