Objective: To clarify the effect of age on behaviour disorders in adults with learning disabilities, and the differentiation of behaviour disorders from other psychiatric disorders.
Method: Detailed assessments, measuring maladaptive behaviours, psychiatric disorders and demographic factors were completed on 93.7% of all people with learning disabilities aged 65 years and over, living in Leicestershire, UK (n = 134), and also a random sample of adults with learning disabilities aged 20-64 years (n = 73). Behaviour disorders were distinguished from other psychiatric disorders. Descriptive and inferential statistics were calculated.
Result: Equal rates (15%) and types of behaviour disorder were found in the two groups. The presence of behaviour disorder was associated with the severity of learning disabilities, but age was not associated, and nor was presence of epilepsy or gender. In many cases, positive scores on the behavioural assessment, which carers attributed to challenging behaviour/ behaviour disorder, were actually symptoms of psychiatric illness.
Conclusion: Behaviour disorders persist into old age, and therefore require management from the appropriate services. This need will increase, due to increasing lifespan. The accurate interpretation of behaviour scales requires that a comprehensive psychiatric assessment is also undertaken, particularly in elderly people where rates of psychiatric disorders are higher than for younger adults.