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Using Artificial Intelligence to improve the health and wellbeing of people with learning disabilities

A new study led by Loughborough University and the Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust will use Artificial Intelligence to improve the health and wellbeing of people with learning disabilities.

About 1 in 100 people are identified as having a learning disability. Of this population, over 65% 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.

Often the physical ill-health symptoms experienced by those with a learning disability are mistakenly attributed to a mental health/behavioural problem, or as being inherent to their disability. This means they do not always receive the same level of care as those without a learning disability.

And as there is no easy way to understand and predict the complex interactions between MLTCs and the care needs of individuals, it is difficult to provide effective joined-up care between health and social services.

For 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. This will help them to identify the most important MLTCs affecting the lives of people with learning disabilities, make informed recommendations about the care of people with MLTCs, and produce visual information such as graphs and infographics that can be easily understood.

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 this will enable the better management of MLTCs by health and social care providers, and in some cases prevent them from developing.

Loughborough’s Dr Thomas Jun, a Reader in Socio-technical System Design, is co-lead for the project. Speaking about DECODE he said: “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. 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.” 

Co-lead Dr Satheesh Gangadharan, a Consultant Psychiatrist with the Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, added: “Moving forward we hope our research will shape how people with a learning disability and long-term conditions are supported in the UK and beyond. The links we have with the National Learning Disability Professional Senate, Royal Colleges, Health Education England, Public Health Wales, NHS England and NHS Wales will enable us to make a real impact and improve the care.” 

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. The other academic project partners include the University of Leicester, Swansea University, King’s College London, University of Plymouth, the University of Nottingham, and De Montfort University.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: PR 22/81

The full list of DECODE project partners is: Dr Georgina Cosma and Dr Panos Balatsoukas from Loughborough University; Dr Francesco Zaccardi, Dr Michelle O'Reilly and Professor Kamlesh Khunti from the University of Leicester; Ashley Akbari and Professor Simon Ellwood-Thompson from Swansea University; Dr Vasa Curcin from King’s College London; Professor  Rohit Shankar from the University of Plymouth; Dr Reza Kiani from the Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust; Dr Neil Sinclair from the University of Nottingham; Dr Chris Knifton from De Montfort University; and Gillian Huddleston.

About Loughborough University

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2022 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2022, and 10th in both the Guardian University League Table 2022 and the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.

About the NIHR

The mission of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. We do this by:

  • Funding high quality, timely research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care;
  • Investing in world-class expertise, facilities and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services;
  • Partnering with patients, service users, carers and communities, improving the relevance, quality and impact of our research;
  • Attracting, training and supporting the best researchers to tackle complex health and social care challenges;
  • Collaborating with other public funders, charities and industry to help shape a cohesive and globally competitive research system;
  • Funding applied global health research and training to meet the needs of the poorest people in low and middle income countries.