Grief and Bereavement in People With Intellectual Disabilities

Philip C. Dodd; Suzanne Guerin


Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2009;22(5):442-446. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Purpose of Review: The aim of this article is to present and synthesize recent research on grief and bereavement in people with intellectual disabilities, incorporating relevant studies with the general population.
Recent Findings: Work in the general population is currently focusing on achieving greater clarity in our understanding of typical and atypical reactions to grief. Although much of this research is relevant to people with intellectual disabilities, this group also presents unique challenges. These include variation in understanding of death, a continuum of grief reactions including pathological or complicated grief, and additional demands faced by professional carers and staff working in this area. However, the research activity is somewhat limited in that it has relied on small-scale studies.
Summary: The possible recognition of prolonged grief disorder as a distinct clinical entity will have a significant impact on research and intervention of people with pathological or complicated grief. To date, no prospective study of grief and bereavement has been conducted among people with intellectual disabilities. This is essential to best understand the course of grief and complicated grief in people with intellectual disabilities and minimize the levels of functional impairment.


As people with intellectual disability (PWID) are living longer, many are experiencing an increased range of life events, including bereavement. It was previously considered that PWID were incapable of experiencing feelings of grief following a bereavement.[1] However, previous studies have linked parental bereavement with a deterioration in mental health and behaviour,[2,3] and there is a growing recognition that PWID experience significant suffering following a bereavement. In the general population, there is significant research interest in identifying those grief-related symptoms and factors that best predict long-term functional impairment to inform the development of efficacious therapeutic approaches.[4] Central to this is an understanding of the concept of death among PWID, the continuum of bereavement response that exists in PWID, and the critical role that professional carers and staff have at this time.


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