Background: Previous research has indicated that children and adults with intellectual disabilities (ID) may respond to traumatic and other life events in a similar way to the general population. However, few studies have charted the extent of exposure to recent life events in samples of adults with ID and the association of such exposure with general psychiatric problems.
Methods: Adults with ID (n = 1155) in community and residential services in a county district in North-east England were assessed using the Psychiatric Assessment for Adults with Developmental Disabilities Checklist (PAS-ADD Checklist), which includes a checklist of recent life events. Data were provided by informants who knew the index client well.
Results: Within the 12 months before data collection, the five most frequently experienced life events were: moving residence (15.5% of sample), serious illness of close relative or friend (9.0%), serious problem with close friend, neighbour or relative (8.8%), serious illness or injury to self (8.5%), and death of close family friend or other relative (8.3%). Overall, 46.3% had experienced one or more significant life events in the previous 12 months and 17.4% had experienced two or more. Logistic regression analysis revealed that the presence of one or more life events in the previous 12 months added significantly to the classification of psychiatric caseness predicted by demographic variables (age, sex, residence in community or hospital) on the PAS-ADD Affective Disorder scale. Overall, the odds ratio for affective disorder given exposure to one or more life events was 2.23 [95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.56, 3.18].
Conclusions: Small, but potentially significant relationships were found between life events exposure and psychiatric problems in adults with ID. Further research is needed to explore the causal direction of this relationship and also to develop more sensitive measures of life events relevant to the situation of adults in residential and community service environments.