Study Sheds Light on Health Needs of Adults with Autism

Nov. 5, 2015
Seizure Disorders, Depression Among Issues More Prevalent than in General Population

While the spotlight of autism research generally shines on children, research at the University of Rochester Medical Center shows that adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more likely to suffer serious health problems like seizure disorders and depression. The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, reveals a need for greater advocacy and awareness to ensure that adults with autism have access to appropriate and effective care.

“Autism is one of the most common neurodevelopmental conditions in childhood, estimated to affect 1 in 68 children. Although it has been extensively studied in children, little is known about health conditions in adults with autism,” said lead author Robert J. Fortuna, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Medicine and Pediatrics in Primary Care at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “This study highlights the importance of careful monitoring of their health status and urges us to examine best practices to facilitate their access to high-quality health care,” said senior author Philip W. Davidson, PhD, URMC professor emeritus of Pediatrics, Environmental Medicine and Psychiatry.

Comparing information from 255 adults ages 18 to 71 with ASD to a similar group of the general population, researchers found that adults with autism are more likely to suffer seizure disorders and depression. The higher prevalence of seizure disorders is noteworthy because it is associated with shorter life expectancy in adults with ASD, and an increased need for assistance with daily living activities. Young adults with autism also had higher rates of hypertension, high cholesterol, allergies and anxiety.

Robert J. Fortuna, MD, MPH

A significant portion of the studied group had intellectual disabilities as measured by IQ scores. Those with intellectual disability and depression were more likely to need help with functional tasks. Ultimately, the majority of older adults over 40 years of age with autism required some assistance with activities of daily living, such as dressing and bathing.

“Adults with autism frequently face barriers to accessing health care and receiving recommended treatments for common problems,” Fortuna said. “Therefore, greater awareness is needed to ensure that adults with autism are treated for conditions that are more prevalent with autism as well as conditions that are commonly encountered with advancing age.”

This research was supported in part by a sub-contract to the University Of Rochester Department of Pediatrics from the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Aging with Developmental Disabilities (RRTCADD), Department of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The RRTCADD was funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. It was also supported by the University of Rochester CTSA from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.