Today, the age expectancy of people with Down Syndrome has increased to about 60, and many live into their 80s—well into the senior demographic. Unfortunately, through a particular twist of genetics, at least one out of every two people with Down Syndrome will develop some type of dementia as they age.
Those with Down Syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21, a chromosome that carries a gene that makes the amyloid precursor protein (APP), which can build up and create the plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s Disease, notes a National Institutes of Health (NIH) fact sheet. The double chromosome means those with Down Syndrome have twice the ability to form APP compared to other people—and twice the chances of forming the plaques and tangles that block the brain’s neuropathways and kill brain cells.
The unique genetic circumstances may call for different screening protocols and/or interventions. Most people with Down Syndrome already have these sticky brain plaques as early as age 40. Caregivers should monitor residents with the syndrome closely for behavior clues that may indicate cognitive decline, the NIH article notes, including confusion, short-term memory issues, growing problems with coordination, declining motor skills, forgetting locations and routines and a shrinking attention span.
About 400,000 people in the United States have Down Syndrome, according to the National Down Syndrome Society. To learn more about the relationship between Down Syndrome and Alzheimer’s, see these resources:
- An Introduction to Alzheimer’s Disease (National Down Syndrome Society)
- A Caregiver’s Guide to Down Syndrome & Alzheimer’s Disease (National Down Syndrome Society)
- Down Syndrome and Alzheimer’s Disease (Alzheimer’s Association)
- Aging and Down Syndrome: A Health & Well-Being Guidebook (PDF, 8MB) (National Down Syndrome Society)