Down's Syndrome with Alzheimer's: Caregiver Tips

Christine Kennard Health Pro
  • It was only comparatively recently that people with Down's syndrome were found to be at more at risk of getting Alzheimer's disease. People with Down's syndrome (DS) can begin to show signs of Alzheimer's as young as 40 years of age.


    Are the symptoms of Alzheimer's the same for people with Down's Syndrome?

    The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are the same, but they are often missed or misinterpreted. Symptoms include memory loss, weight loss, apathy, personality changes, loss of conversation skills, poor mobility and increasing dependency on others in activities of daily living.


    Caregiver Tips to People with Down's Syndrome and Alzheimer's

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    Many of the issues of providing best care to someone with Down's and Alzheimer's are the same. The differences, such as they are, relate more to caregivers taking into account the person's previous personality, behavior, skills, interests and health when initiating new care plans. Here are some general tips:

    •  People with DS will still go through the different stages of Alzheimer's. Adapting the way you care for them will need to change as they change and will need to be flexable too. More Information: Different Stages of Alzheimer's Requires Different Methods of Caregiving
    • Improve Communications Skills:  Keep things simple. It is the same advice I give to all caregivers of people with Alzheimer's. Make statements short and to the point. Face the person you are talking to and give them your attention. Use the feedback they give you to evaluate whether you are getting the message across. Listen carefully. More about effective communication
    • Interpret Behavior: As people lose their ability to get their message across through speech try interpreting the sounds they make, their body language, facial expressions and so on.
    • Structure routine into day and night activities.
    • Investigate whether eyesight is not deteriorating. People with Down's syndrome are more susceptible to cataracts. Hearing may also get worse with age.
    • Show respect and love to the person. People with DS are very responsive to a soothing touch and voice. People with DS are often gentle and warm individuals. Alzheimer's can change their behavior profoundly as brain damage increases but it is often because of confusion. Reassurance is a significant skill in the caregiver toolbox.
    • Allow individuality and enable them to do as much as they can for themselves.
    • Use prompts and rewards to encourage participation in tasks. Praise them as you go along and finish with high praise on completion of a task.
    • Use a board, a diary with images, labels and color to plan, record and structure his/her day.
    • Busy, noisy environments can increase anxiety. Music can calm when someone is agitated. Light filters and color lampshades may promote calm too for short periods. I have seen red lighting used with good effect.
    • Observe their behavior to find out what works best for each person.
    • Illness can easily be missed if a caregiver is unused to looking after someone with a learning disability. In the later stages of Alzheimer's, 84 percent of people with Down's syndrome develop epilepsy, a much higher rate of people than in the general population. They are also at increased risk of diabetes, thyroid problems and deterioration of pre-existing physical congenital disorders such as gastrointestinal disorders and heart problems.
Published On: August 19, 2009