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Intellectual disability among Indigenous Australians

Glasson, E.J., Sullivan, S.G., Hussain, R., Forbes, A. and Bittles, A.H. (2004) Intellectual disability among Indigenous Australians. In: Genetics and Population Health, 8 - 10 August 2004, Fremantle, Western Australia


The health and wellbeing of indigenous peoples is a significant global problem. Information on intellectual disability (ID) in the Aboriginal population of Western Australia was obtained from records maintained since 1953 by the Disability Services Commission, supplemented by linkage with data from other state databases on morbidity and mortality. Indigenous Australians form 3.5% of the state population, but comprised 7.4% (n = 734) of all people registered for ID services. Their level of ID was borderline or mild in 40.7% of cases, moderate in 19.9%, and severe or profound in 12.1%, but unspecified in 27.2% cases. Median survival was 55.1 years for males and 64.0 years for females, with a mean age at death of 19.6 years. A genetic aetiology was indicated in 131 cases (17.8%), including 32 people with Down syndrome. Leading causes of death in the study cohort were respiratory diseases, circulatory system disease, and accidents. The study provides a comprehensive overview of Indigenous Australians registering for ID services, but more specific information on geographical location, burden of disability and specific client profiles is needed. The data also illustrate the important role of well-maintained population databases in the detailed monitoring of health and wellbeing.

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