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AI used to support people with learning disabilities

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A new study led by Loughborough University and the Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust will use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the health and wellbeing of people with learning disabilities.

Currently, about 1 in 100 people are identified as having a learning disability. Of this population, over 65 per cent have two or more long-term health problems, known as multiple long-term conditions (MLTCs), and a life expectancy that is 20 years lower than the UK average.

However, the physical ill-health symptoms of people who suffer from learning disabilities are often wrongly attributed to a behavioural problem, leading to worse healthcare outcomes or ineffective care from health and social services.

Scientists at Loughborough University and the Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust have teamed up to address this issue. Through the 'Decode' (Data-driven machinE-learning aided stratification and management of multiple long-term COnditions in adults with intellectual disabilitiEs) project, the team will use machine learning to better understand MLTCs in people with learning disabilities.

The researchers will analyse healthcare data on people with learning disabilities from England and Wales to find out what MLTCs are more likely to occur together; what happens to some of these MLTCs over time, and the role other factors such as lifestyle choices, financial position, and social situations play in their MLTCs.

The team will also work directly with people with learning disabilities, their carers, and the professionals who support them to ensure that it is addressing the community's most pressing MLTCs. 

The end goal is to create a new joined-up model of care for people with learning disabilities, that brings together the multiple clinical guidelines relevant to the dominant MLTCs in this population, in a format that is accessible for all users. Ultimately, it is hoped that this will enable the better management of MLTCs by health and social care providers and in some cases could prevent them from developing altogether.

“We are very excited about this collaboration opportunity, working with clinicians and experts in data science, AI, medical informatics, human factors, design, ethics and qualitative research, as well as those with lived experience of learning disabilities," said Dr Thomas Jun, the project's co-leader. 

"We will be able to demonstrate how AI can create safe, ethical and cost-effective improvement to the quality of life for thousands of people with learning disabilities.”

Moving forward, the team hopes that its research will shape policy decisions regarding the support that people with a learning disability and long-term conditions receive in the UK and beyond. To achieve this, the researchers are collaborating with the National Learning Disability Professional Senate, Royal Colleges, Health Education England, Public Health Wales, NHS England and NHS Wales. 

The Decode project is being funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the research partner of the NHS, public health and social care, and is due to start in April. 

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