Stress and social isolation, and its relationship to cardiovascular risk in young adults with intellectual disability

Disabil Rehabil. 2023 Mar;45(6):974-985. doi: 10.1080/09638288.2022.2046186. Epub 2022 Mar 21.


Purpose: Stress produces many physiological changes, some of which may contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Individuals with intellectual disability (ID) are exposed to multiple and stressful challenges everyday which may put them at increased cardiovascular risk. This current study aimed to establish whether adults with ID experience higher levels of subjective stress and encounter different stressors (including social isolation) than the general population, and whether there is a relationship between stress and cardiometabolic profile in this population.

Methods: Adults with ID (n = 35) aged 18-45 years completed the Subjective Stress Survey, and underwent a physiological assessment to measure blood pressure, metabolic profile and subclinical CVD risk factors, and were compared to a control group (n = 29). Multiple regression was used to investigate whether cardiometabolic parameters were predicative of SSS scores.

Results: Findings showed adults with ID have higher perceived stress levels (total score ID: 21.3 ± 11.4 vs control: 13.9 ± 9.0, p = 0.006), which is elicited by unique stressors, when compared to people without ID. Stress was strongly associated with increased social isolation (r = -0.38, p = 0.002) and with obesity in females with mild ID (r = 0.72). Regression showed that arterial stiffness was predictive of total SSS score (p = 0.038).

Conclusions: Adults with ID aged 18-45 years report higher levels of perceived stress when compared to people without ID.Implications for RehabilitationReducing stress in this young population may prevent development of arterial stiffness, and consequently lower the risk of cardiometabolic morbidity and mortality.There are unique targets for stress management in young adults with intellectual disability, including supporting decision-making and improving self-efficacy.Improving community integration and reducing social isolation may decrease perceived stress in young adults with intellectual disability.

Keywords: Stress; arterial stiffness; cardiovascular risk; social isolation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Heart Disease Risk Factors
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability* / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Isolation
  • Young Adult