Many Australians coping with multiple disabilities

The latest report on disability in Australia, released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, examines the frequency of multiple disabilities and their impact on the care needs of Australians.

Dr Xingyan Wen of the Institute's Functioning and Disability Unit said, 'In 2003, half of all Australians with disability, or about two million people, had a combination of two or more disabilities.

'These disabilities can include intellectual, psychiatric, sensory/speech, disability from acquired brain injury (ABI) and physical disabilities,' he said.

The report shows that half of all children under the age of 15 who had a psychiatric disability (over 42,000 children) or ABI (over 11,000 children) had three or more disabilities.

Over one-third of children with sensory/speech (over 48,000 children) or intellectual disability (over 55,000 children) had three or more disabilities.

More than half of people aged 15 to 44 with ABI (more than 85,000 people) or intellectual disability (over 95,000 people) had three or more disabilities.

'The more disabilities people had, the more likely they were to need help with 'core' daily activities such as self care, mobility and communication,' Dr Wen said.

'Some combinations of disabilities had more marked effects on people's activity, participation in major life areas and the subsequent need for assistance,' he said.

The report, Disability in Australia: multiple disabilities and need for assistance, shows a substantial proportion of care for people with multiple disabilities is provided by their family members and friends.

The report also found that people with multiple disabilities who needed very frequent assistance with daily activities were much less likely to have their needs fully met than people with less frequent need for assistance.

Support needs of people with early onset multiple disabilities vary depending on the nature of their disabilities and their life stages. As they grow older, they may have higher support needs than other people with single or late onset disability.

People aged 15 to 64 years with a mix of psychiatric, physical disabilities, and other disability were more likely than others to have employment restrictions.

Over one-third of people with three disabilities and almost half of people with four or five disabilities had profound employment restriction.

Among people with four or five disabilities, 30% of those living in households were unable to go out as often as they would like to participate in community activities, over 40% were living in institutions and a majority (77%) were aged 65 years or over.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Further information: Dr Xingyan Wen, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1177mob. 0418 271 395

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1032.