BACKGROUND: In the late 1950s and early 1960s the drug Thalidomide was marketed across the world as a non-addictive tranquilizer. Despite being given to pregnant women as a safe treatment for morning sickness, Thalidomide caused serious damage to the unborn child. Much has been written about the drug and the birth defects it caused but evidence about the health of Thalidomide survivors as they age is limited.
AIM: The aim of this study was to: explore the health and wellbeing UK Thalidomide survivors; document the health problems experienced by them as they reach their mid-50s; and examine the impacts on their health-related quality of life and employment.
METHODS: A health and wellbeing survey of 351 UK Thalidomide survivors, which gathered information about home and employment circumstances, recent health problems, and health related quality of life (using SF12 Health Survey). Overall analysis focused on descriptive statistics; the association between respondents' health related quality of life and original impairment was examined using Pearson Correlation; and a three step Hierarchical Regression was used to explore the influence of five factors which narrative responses suggested might be important.
RESULTS: As Thalidomide survivors reach their mid-50's they are experiencing a wide range of secondary health problems, in particular musculoskeletal problems, and depression and anxiety, with multimorbidity a growing issue. These health problems are having a negative impact on their employment (two fifths are unable to work) and their physical health related quality of life, which is significantly poorer than the general population.
DISCUSSION: Having lived relatively independent lives, many Thalidomide survivors are now having to adjust to growing disability. The study provides further evidence of the accumulative impact of disability over peoples' lifetimes and highlights the value of a life course perspective in understanding the complex experience of growing older with a disability.