Program for both caregivers and adults with ID improves work routines and physical activity

By Helena Bergström, MS, PhD(c)
Centre for Epidemiology and Community Medicine, Stockholm County Council
Karolinska Institutet, Sweden

Unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, and weight disturbances are more common among people with intellectual disabilities (ID) than among the general population. This contributes to poor health and an increased risk of chronic diseases.

What did you do in your research?
We developed and evaluated a health program in 30 community residences in Stockholm County, Sweden. A total of 130 participants (ages 20-66) took part in the study (74 women; 56 men). The 12-16 month program included three components:
1) The appointment of a health ambassador among the caregivers in each community residence, who also attended six (three hour long) network meetings, with the goal of improving knowledge on health behaviors and learning from one another, 2) A study circle for the caregivers (titled “Focus Health”), with the aim of improving work routines to support healthy diets and physical activity among the residents (10 total Focus Health sessions, 90 minutes each), and 3) A ten session health course for the residents (called “driver's license for health”), with the aim of improving knowledge and health behaviors.

What did you find out?
Residents increased their physical activity after participation in the program as evidenced by an increase in the number of steps taken per day (1,608 more steps taken daily post intervention). The type of residence participants lived in also played a role. For example, the effect on physical activity was stronger in homes with supported living, where residents in general are more self-supporting (compared with group homes). A positive effect on work routines was also found, with an average increase of 7.1% on a self-assessment scale among the residences included in the intervention group. However, no effects were found on dietary quality, BMI, or satisfaction with life.

What are the take-home messages?
A program targeting both caregivers and residents in community residences for adults with ID can be effective in improving work routines and physical activity.

To learn more about these findings contact Helena Bergström.

Full Journal Article
Bergström , H., Hagströmer, M., Hagberg, J., & Elinder, L.S. (2013). A multi-component universal intervention to improve diet and physical activity among adults with intellectual disabilities in community residences: A cluster randomised controlled trial. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34(11), 3847-3857.

  1. All materials developed for the program are in Swedish. We developed the following materials:
    1) A study circle material for the caregivers
    2) A brochure about healthy diets and physical activity for the caregivers
    3) A manual for the health course for the residents (developed by a National Educational Association for Adults)
    4) A manual for the implementation of the program