Nursing in the World of IDD

Feb 5, 2021

What is the role of a nurse? And what separates a good nurse from an exceptional one? Working with intellectually and developmentally disabled adults, it is a nurse’s responsibility to provide ethical and developmentally appropriate care to their charges.

A Lifetime of Care

The stance of the American Nurses Association (ANA) is that nurses should offer “compassionate, comprehensive, and person-centered care to all people,” especially as it pertains to vulnerable populations “who experience health disparities across practice settings.”

For IDD individuals, the role of a nurse may encompass a lifetime of care. IDD individuals may need additional care from their support network at various levels: one-on-one, in the community, and amongst their loved ones. 

Each Individual Has Unique Needs

We know that no two disabilities are exactly alike, which is precisely why IDD individuals should not be treated as a monolithic group. Behavior, expression, ability, and challenges range widely from person to person, even among those with the same diagnosis. That’s why it’s essential for nurses, as caretakers, to treat each IDD individual as just that: an individual. A nurse must look past labels and diagnoses and recognize their clients as people with unique strengths, talents, challenges, personalities, and goals. 

But recognizing a client’s agency and individuality and learning how to meet their particular needs are just one side of the coin. Nurses must also be able to identify and manage the specific challenges of caring for IDD clientele. Unfortunately, many IDD folks live with comorbid medical conditions, in addition to a slew of other concerns that can affect any member of the population. 

While nurses may be well-trained and medically competent, not all can meet IDD patients’ unique needs. According to research, some nurses are afraid of approaching IDD patients or are simply uncertain of how to do so. Unfortunately, this has resulted in more than a few neglected and untreated IDD patients who could not express themselves to their medical care professionals.

Access to Preventative Care

While we’re on the topic, we should also touch on the difficulties and delays often experienced by IDD individuals seeking preventative medical care. Some went years without pap smears or mammograms. Access to the necessary care isn’t always easy to get or to keep. Treatment is made even more difficult by intersecting factors, such as physical accessibility, poverty, self-advocacy challenges, and even race and ethnicity.

Ultimately, a nurse working with IDD individuals must be well-versed in their patients’ unique care needs. They should offer personal care while also helping them self-advocate, continually assessing their support network’s capability for future growth opportunities. Nurses must develop a special relationship with IDD patients if they are to work closely together. But this relationship can only function properly if it empowers the patient. It requires support without carrying, recognizing challenges without victimizing, and advocacy without overpowering.

A good nurse creates a finely tuned balance with the patient. It’s not an easy task, but one that is incredibly rewarding – and incredibly necessary. To learn more about ILA, what we do, and current career opportunities, reach out today!

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