International Journal of Clinical Pharmacy

, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 135–143 | Cite as

Knowledge that people with intellectual disabilities have of their inhaled asthma medications: messages for pharmacists

  • Sharon R. DavisEmail author
  • Seeta Durvasula
  • Diana Merhi
  • Paul M. Young
  • Daniela Traini
  • Sinthia Z. Bosnic Anticevich
Research Article


Background Fifteen percent of Australians with intellectual disability (ID) are reported to have asthma. People with ID are at risk of poor health knowledge due to deficits in intellectual and adaptive functioning, but their medication knowledge has largely been ignored in research to date. Objective To explore the level of understanding of asthma medication use of people with ID who self-administer their inhaled medications, in order to inform future educational support. Setting The research was conducted in NSW, Australia, at the participants’ homes, the point of health care access, or the offices of relevant support organisations. Method In this qualitative study face-to-face interviews were conducted with people with ID using a semi-structured interview guide. The interviews were recorded, transcribed and thematically analysed. Main outcome Identification of barriers to asthma medication self-management by people with ID. Results Seventeen people with ID who self-administer their asthma medications were interviewed. Factors influencing their asthma medication knowledge and use included understanding of their illness and the need for medication; aspects of self-management and autonomy versus dependence. This sample of people with ID had a good understanding of the importance of using their inhaled asthma medications, as well as asthma triggers, and the difference between use of preventer and reliever medications. Both enablers and barriers to asthma medication self-management were identified in the domains of managing attacks, adherence, knowledge of side effects and sources of information on correct use of inhalers. The level of autonomy for medication use varied, with motivation to self-manage asthma influenced by the level of support that was practically available to individual participants. Conclusion This research investigated aspects of asthma medication self-management of people with ID. Based on the barriers identified, pharmacists should promote use of spacers and written asthma action plans as well as counsel people with ID about how to recognise and minimise side effects of asthma medications. Specific strategies for pharmacists when educating people with ID and their caregivers include active listening to determine understanding of concepts, exercising care with language, and working with the person’s known routines to maximise adherence with preventer medications.


Asthma Caregivers Inhaler Intellectual disability Interviews Pharmacists Qualitative research Self-management 



The authors wish to thank the disability support organisations that assisted with recruitment for this study.


No specific funding was received for this project.

Conflicts of interests

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Koninklijke Nederlandse Maatschappij ter bevordering der Pharmacie 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sharon R. Davis
    • 1
    Email author
  • Seeta Durvasula
    • 2
  • Diana Merhi
    • 3
  • Paul M. Young
    • 1
  • Daniela Traini
    • 1
  • Sinthia Z. Bosnic Anticevich
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Woolcock Institute of Medical Research and Discipline of Pharmacology, Sydney Medical SchoolThe University of SydneyCamperdownAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Disability Studies, Sydney Medical SchoolUniversity of SydneyCamperdownAustralia
  3. 3.Synergy Medical PracticeGreenwichAustralia
  4. 4.Sydney Local Health DistrictSydneyAustralia

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