February 06, 2015 | Updated: January 29, 2019

If it's Winter Games, then it must be time for the Healthy Athletes screenings! Healthy Athletes is a Special Olympics program that provides free health screenings in a fun, welcoming environment that removes the anxiety and trepidation people with intellectual disabilities often experience when faced with a visit to a doctor or dentist. The Healthy Athletes program has become the largest global public health organization dedicated to serving people with intellectual disabilities.

Despite a mistaken belief that people with intellectual disabilities receive the same or better typically receive sub-standard care or virtually no health care at all.

Health screenings have found that Special Olympics athletes are at risk for increased secondary health issues:

  • 50% have at least one kind of skin or nail condition
  • 37% have obvious, untreated tooth decay
  • 27% fail hearing tests
  • 22% have low bone density
  • 15% have an eye disease

Athletes who visit Wellness Park on Saturday, February 7, will receive Health Promotions and Healthy Hearing screenings.

Health Promotions checks the athlete's bone density, height, weight and blood pressure. If any issues are detected, athletes are referred to the appropriate specialist for a follow-up. Athletes who show balance or other strength-related issues are also provided with a booklet of suggested exercises that can help improve balance and strength.

Healthy Hearing checks the athlete's hearing, as well as issues  that might contribute to reduced hearing--such as heavy wax buildup in the ears, a common problem among Special Olympics athletes. If a problem is discovered, the athlete is referred to an ear, nose and throat doctor for wax removal or further hearing tests.

SOTX athlete Denise Fuller went through the Healthy Athletes screenings on Friday. "I learned that I have stronger legs and I'm pretty flexible," she said. "But my balance is not so good. They gave me a bunch of exercises to do."

Participating in the screenings available at Wellness Park and the Healthy Athletes program is important to long-term athlete health and well-being, said Norm Arias, the supervisor of the Healthy Athletes program for Special Olympics Texas.

"It's really important that coahes are aware of an athlete's health in reference to their strength, agility and flexibility. Knowing this will help them help their athletes achieve their goals, both as a team and an individual. It's also very important that parents and guardians get involved in this process as well because it has an impact on the athlete's future health, especially as their athletes age. It's important to be proactive instead of reactive."

Athletes who complete both health screenings receive an incentive.

Wellness Park will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday at the Norris Conference Centers, 2525 W Anderson Lane, Suite 365, Austin, TX 78757.

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