People with Down's Syndrome at Higher Risk of Alzheimer's Disease

Christine Kennard Health Pro
  • It has only recently been recognized that older people with Down's syndrome (DS) are at greater risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.  There are over 350,000 people in the USA who have been diagnosed with this syndrome. It is a genetic disorder in which a chromosome, known as trisomy 21, is abnormal.   


    The main reason for not previously recognizing DS as a significant risk factor for Alzheimer's is life expectancy. In the 1920s, life expectancy for people with DS was just 9 years. This increased to 12 years by 1949 and 35 years of age by 1985. Now, people with DS, live an average of 55 years or more. However, their increased life span has increased their susceptibility to conditions of aging.

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    Why people with DS should have a higher incidence of developing Alzheimer's disease in middle age is not known.  It is believed that they have increased levels of B-amyloid in the brain, and it is thought that these senile plaques are a major cause of Alzheimer's disease.


    Women with DS are more at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease than men in the 40 to 65 age group.


    The symptoms of Alzheimer's are the same. Memory loss, weight loss, apathy, personality changes, loss of conversation skills, poor mobility and increasing dependency on others in activities of daily living are evident. In the later stages of Alzheimer's, 84 percent of people with Down's syndrome develop epilepsy, a much higher rate than people in the general population.


    Alzheimer's Prevention and Down's Syndrome

    It has been known for many years that people with DS are more susceptible to obesity, cataracts and congenital heart conditions.  With increased aging, susceptibility to thyroid and cardiovascular dysfunction, skeletal problems such as osteoporosis, arthritis and muscular disorders, and depression are now recognized as common health problems. These conditions of aging highlight the need for a greater emphasis on preventative health programs.


    How prevention programs can help prevent Alzheimer's disease in this susceptible group is unknown. No studies exist looking at this aspect of healthcare provision to people with DS. Reducing Alzheimer's risks through exercise has been shown to increase cognitive function among people without DS, as have mental exercise, a good healthy diet and antioxidants. More research is needed so that people with DS can meet the Healthy People 2010 goals aimed at increasing the quality of life to all citizens of the United States.

Published On: October 07, 2008