Alternative Names developmentally delayed, retarded, mentally handicapped, mentally disabled, slow
Definition Mental retardation is defined by three criteria. The person has a score of 70 or less on intelligence tests, or IQ tests. The person has limitations in at least two aspects of living skills. Mental retardation is present from birth or infancy. Examples of living skills are:
education (reading, writing, basic maths)
personal care (bathing, dressing, eating, toileting)
childhood exposure to environmental toxins such as lead or mercury.
being deprived of normal stimulation and interaction with people.
Children who have mental retardation may be at risk for other health problems. Depending on what caused the mental retardation, the child may also have seizures or may have a heart condition.
What can be done to prevent the condition? Mental retardation can sometimes be prevented by proper antenatal care. A woman should not smoke, drink, or use drugs while pregnant. She should also talk to her doctor before taking any medications. Pregnant women should exercise, eat a healthy diet, get regular checkups, and have genetic testing if it's advised. Children should be protected from hazards like lead, and they should get prompt medical care when ill. Children need to have stimulating contact with other children and adults to help them develop mentally.
How is the condition diagnosed? Mental retardation is diagnosed with a physical examination and psychological and intelligence tests.
What are the long-term effects of the condition? The long-term effects of the condition depend on the degree of retardation. They may include:
a need for lifelong sheltered living and work environments
a need for assistance with basic activities of daily living, such as dressing, feeding, and toileting
significant, lifelong health problems
poor decision-making ability
a need for help with financial decisions and management
emotional and social immaturity
What are the risks to others? The family of an affected person needs to make long-term plans for the person's care.
What are the treatments for the condition? Treatments for mental retardation include:
medical treatment for other conditions, such as hydrocephalus, which is fluid in the brain cavities.
What are the side effects of the treatments? Medications can have side effects. Surgery, if needed, can also carry risks.
What happens after treatment for the condition? A mentally retarded person can receive special education services until the age of 21. Vocational services are available in sheltered workshop settings. Families must do long-term planning for the time when the parents are no longer able to care for the person.
How is the condition monitored? A person's condition is monitored with periodic physical checkups. Parents can participate in Individual Educational Plan meetings at school.
Author: Ann Reyes, Ph.D. Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia Last Updated: 1/10/2001 Contributors Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request
This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice. All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.