Free health checks offered at Special Olympics

More than 1,200 athletes will receive free ear, eye, feet and teeth checks at the Special Olympics New Zealand National Summer Games 2017.

Over seventy volunteer clinicians and students from health professions will screen the athletes, looking to identify previously undetected health issues that are common among people with intellectual disabilities.

For the first time in New Zealand the eye screenings will include a specialist check for Keratoconus – an eye condition causing vision problems that is more common in people with Down Syndrome than in the general population.

Dr Jeanine Doherty, Audiologist and Special Olympics New Zealand Board Trustee, says people with intellectual disabilities typically have poorer health status than the general public – “in part because they may not be able to voice their symptoms and concerns to others, or because the health system does not delve hard enough to find unmet needs.”

Worldwide Special Olympics has almost five million athletes active in over 170 countries. In 2016 it was found that of the almost 156,000 athletes screened:

  • 47% had toenail and foot issues
  • 40% had untreated tooth decay
  • 40% needed a prescription for glasses
  • 20% had permanent hearing loss requiring hearing help.

Dr Doherty says New Zealand figures are often higher than these world averages and that should be a concern for us all.

“The data we gather will be used in writing evidence-based research papers, which will be shared with government health policy officials and care agencies. This will hopefully help gain better access to, and care by, our health services for all persons with intellectual disability.”

Special Olympics New Zealand holds Healthy Athletes Programme screenings at its National Summer Games every four years. Screenings began in New Zealand in 1997 – and currently include Fit Feet (podiatry), Healthy Hearing (audiology), Opening Eyes (optometry) and Special Smiles (dentistry).

The Special Olympics National Summer Games are being held in Wellington from 27 November to 1 December 2017.

Find out more about the Games here