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Interview: Elisabeth Zeilinger and Sandra-Verena Müller

The 13th European Congress of Mental Health in Intellectual Disability (EAMHID) will be held in Berlin, Germany, September 23 - 25, 2021. The central theme is 'From Science to Practice'. To kick off sharing the knowledge we have interviewed some of the keynote speakers. This is an interview with Elisabeth Zeilinger, Health Psychologist, Clinical Psychologist and Researcher at University of Vienna (Austria) and Sandra-Verena Müller, Psychological Psychotherapist, Clinical Neuropsychologist and Researcher at Ostfalia University of Applied Science, Wolfenbüttel (Germany). 

Research, intellectueal disabilities, and mental health (or challenging behaviour). What comes to mind reading these key words? 

Research on mental health for persons with intellectual disabilities is almost always about mental disorder. Can persons with intellectual disabilities be mentally healthy? If they can be mentally healthy, what constitutes their mental health?


What is the main research objective/theme/focus of the study you will be presenting? What are the main results from your study?

We will focus on dementia in persons with intellectual disabilities. We will discuss how the presentation and diagnosis of dementia differ between people with and people without intellectual disabilities. Persons with intellectual disabilities and dementia as well as their caregivers need special support dealing with the new situation and with changes related to dementia. We highlight the importance of an early recognition of dementia in persons with intellectual disabilities, and of a person-centred approach in caring for the person affected. It is surprising to recognize that small efforts in everyday life, e.g. slight changes in the surroundings to give the person with dementia more security and orientation, can have large effects.


How might outcomes of your (previous) studies affect daily practice in the support of persons with intellectual disabilities and mental health disorders and/or challenging behaviour? How can daily care improve their support based on your study/work?

We will raise awareness of early symptoms of dementia and how to recognise them. We will provide information on how to support persons with intellectual disabilities and dementia in their daily life. We will discuss how environments and day structures could be adapted to current needs of ageing persons with intellectual disabilities to ensure a high quality of life and independence for as long as possible. Furthermore, we will highlight ways to maintain active participation in community life with best-practice examples.


Can you suggest topics for future studies you will be working on?  How can we better implement scientific findings in daily practices?

Future studies could include implementing adequate regularly screenings to detect early symptoms of dementia; or exploring the life experience of persons with intellectual disabilities and dementia, their relatives, and carers. The dementia test for people with intellectual impairment will soon be published in German 'Demenztest für Menschen mit Intelligenzminderung (DTIM)' by Hogrefe Verlag.

To better implement scientific findings in daily practice thorough dissemination frameworks should be applied (and financed). Scientific knowledge needs to be communicated to policy and practice with no time delay. Dissemination should be an integral part of every research project.