Since 1997, the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program has been providing free, fun screenings and education for people with intellectual disabilities in the fields of Fit Feet (podiatry), FUNfitness (physical therapy), Health Promotion (better health and well-being), Healthy Hearing (audiology), Special Olympics-Lions Club International Opening Eyes (vision), Special Smiles (dentistry), Strong Minds (mental training), and MedFest (sports physical exams *MedFest is the only discipline not currently offered in B.C.).
Through Healthy Athletes, health care professionals receive training about the specific health care concerns of people with intellectual disabilities and how to ask the right questions, helping them draw out issues. Their interactions with Special Olympics athletes lead to referrals back into the health care system that ensure the individuals will get the treatment they need. To date, more than 155,000 volunteer health care professionals worldwide have been trained through Healthy Athletes.
Since the launch of the Healthy Athletes program in 1997, these trained practitioners have provided more than 1.7 million free Healthy Athletes screenings to Special Olympics athletes in more than 134 countries, and have distributed 110,000 free pairs of prescription eyewear. Special Olympics now maintains the largest dataset on the health of people with intellectual disabilities.
Special Olympics BC offers Healthy Athletes screenings in events around the province open to all individuals with intellectual disabilities, as well as at Provincial Games. These events are free for all participants. All the screenings are conducted in a fun, friendly environment where athletes feel welcome and at ease. The screenings are conducted using quality equipment and fun tools to make the experience both valuable and enjoyable.
Watch our video to understand what our free, fun Healthy Athletes screenings are all about!
Many athletes and caregivers have been surprised to go through the Healthy Athletes screenings and find health issues that have gone undiagnosed through regular health channels. The Budzegan family found that happened for son Carson, an SOBC – Langley athlete. Eye examinations from medical professionals at SOBC’s Healthy Athletes screening day in March 2011 led Carson and his family to seek more tests that showed the then-22 year old was at a critical risk from cataracts. Thanks to these interventions, Carson, an aspiring photographer, was scheduled for surgeries that would help save his sight. Carson’s family diligently cares for him and all his medical needs, but the Healthy Athletes screening helped bring to light a problem that had gone unvoiced until that moment.
Special Olympics BC’s Healthy Athletes Screening Survey showed 29 per cent of caregivers said Healthy Athletes screenings have detected a medical concern that they were otherwise unaware of, and 77.8 per cent of caregivers have felt that attending a Healthy Athletes screening has helped them learn about health care.
Data from B.C. Healthy Athletes screenings from 2011 to September 2016 shows the significant needs and unaddressed issues among our province’s athletes, including:
- More than 93.3 per cent of athletes screened had balance and flexibility issues identified, while 81.9 per cent had strength problems identified;
- 73.7 per cent had gingival signs;
- 63.1 per cent had gait abnormalities;
- 46.9 per cent needed a new eyesight prescription;
- 37.8 per cent had blocked or partially blocked ear canals; and
- 35.6 per cent are obese.
These statistics are all comparable to or higher than the global population of individuals with intellectual disabilities who participated in Healthy Athletes screenings between 2011 and September 2016.
Trying to identify and combat these issues, between 2011 and September 2016 SOBC delivered 3,249 Healthy Athletes screenings in six disciplines (not including screenings in the Strong Minds discipline, a recent addition as a Canadian pilot project).