Prevalence Of Mental Retardation

It is estimated that people with mental retardation comprise approximately 1-3% of the population. However, these data vary based on the method of case ascertainment, definition used, and population studied. The prevalence of mental retardation has not changed appreciably for more than 60 years as a result of the stasis between advancing health care and the emergence of new cases. For example, although neonatal diagnosis of children with phenylketonuria and subsequent management has theoretically resulted in the elimination of mental retardation caused by this metabolic disorder, there has been an increase in prenatal exposure to toxic substances (e.g., drugs and alcohol) and an increased survival rate of very low or extremely low-birth-weight, premature infants. Therefore, this balancing effect has contributed to static prevalence rates of mental retardation throughout the years.

As noted, mental retardation comprises a heterogeneous group of persons and syndromes with dissimilar prevalence, physical manifestations, cognitive abilities, and social-emotional development. Previously, all persons with mental retardation were seen as a homogeneous group of individuals. However, we now have a significant knowledge base that allows us to understand more about selective disorders. As such, we consider relevant issues within specific syndromes that are associated with mental retardation.

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