Down Syndrome and Alzheimer’s Disease

Posted at Jan 21, 2014 | 158 Comments

Alzheimer's Physician

If a friend or family member in northern Michigan who lives with Down syndrome, you may have heard that they are at increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show that people with Down syndrome who are 65 years of age or older are three to six times more likely to have Alzheimer’s. Because so much of this disease still remains a mystery, scientists aren’t sure why. They believe it may be linked to the extra gene present in people with Down syndrome.

Because Down syndrome causes premature aging, people living with it will be more likely to develop Alzheimer’s in their mid to late 40s or early 50s. Studies have shown that by age 40 the brains of almost all people with Down syndrome have the tangles and plaques largely believed to cause Alzheimer’s. Even with the presence of these plaques, however, not everyone will contract the disease.

Recognizing Alzheimer’s Symptoms in those with Downs Syndrome

The early symptoms for Alzheimer’s disease present differently in those with Down syndrome. Personality changes and differences in behavior may be early indicators of Alzheimer’s. That is in contrast to the memory loss and forgetfulness we often see in older adults who develop Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, other early signs of the disease may include:

  • Decreased interest in normal activities
  • Decline in attention span
  • Change in attitude including being sad, fearful, irritable or aggressive
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Becoming withdrawn and less social
  • Problems with coordination
  • Seizures
  • Excitability
  • Vision problems

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s Disease in Someone with Down Syndrome

Because it is somewhat more difficult to make a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease for someone living with Down Syndrome, experts recommend a more proactive approach at an earlier age. That should include:

  • Developing a baseline for activity function by the age of 35.
  • Watching for symptoms on the list above and for overall changes in behavior and personality.
  • Routine medical care to diagnosis other illnesses such as thyroid problems, sinus infections, and sleep apnea.

You can learn more by reading the National Down Syndrome Society’s Caregivers Guide to Downs Syndrome and Alzheimer’s Disease.

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