Link found between Down syndrome, Alzheimer’s

Link found between Down syndrome, Alzheimer’s

There is a link between Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, some studies suggest that more than 75 percent of those with Down syndrome over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s. That’s nearly a six times greater chance than individuals without Down syndrome at that age. It also appears at a much younger age, as early as late 40s and early 50s.

While memory loss and forgetfulness are key signs of Alzheimer’s in most individuals, those with Down syndrome may have different symptoms.

“For some patients with Down syndrome, we are more likely to see symptoms related to changes in personality and function,” says Dr. Brian Chicoine, medical director of the Adult Down Syndrome Center at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. “Early symptoms can include anxiety, lack of enthusiasm, sadness, irritability and a decline in one’s ability to pay attention.”

Typically, people are born with 23 pairs of chromosomes. People with Down syndrome are born with an extra copy of chromosome 21. This altered genetic combination is responsible for their limitations in both physical and intellectual development. It may also be a reason for their increased risk for dementia.

“We have so very much more to learn about the link between our patients and Alzheimer’s disease,” continues Dr. Chicoine. “Thanks to advances in medicine, individuals with Down syndrome are living much longer than before. That’s why we are continuing to see more and more patients with Alzheimer’s. In turn, it is becoming a very difficult issue for more and more families.”

Some believe that people with Down syndrome are now the largest group of individuals predestined to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. More and more researchers are studying the link between people with Down syndrome and the disease. They are hoping it will provide insight that will benefit millions of people with Alzheimer’s —not just those with Down syndrome.

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  1. My son sent this article to me because I have a Downs syndrome brother who has Alzheimer’s.
    My brother is 61 years old and his Alzheimer’s began at age 45. He was a change of life baby born to our mother when she was 41. Our mother passed away in 1988 and I have looked after him. He and another brother lived in our mother’s house. Marc came to live with my husband and I for the past 10 years until last year when I was no longer able to care for him. He is living nearby in a small ALF. He has been in the hospital three times this year and is rapidly declining mentally and physically. I am interested in the research. We live across the bay from the Byrd Alzheimer’s institute at the University of South Florida. By the way, I will be 81 in a few weeks. Mary

  2. Wow, this is such interesting research. Mary- it is so impressive and heartwarming to hear that you have cared for your brother who has both Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s for so long. Best of luck to you and your family!

About the Author

Evonne Woloshyn
Evonne Woloshyn

Evonne Woloshyn, health enews contributor, is director of public affairs at Advocate Children's Hospital. Evonne began her career as an anchor and reporter in broadcast news. Over the past 20 years, she has worked in health care marketing in both Ohio and Illinois. Evonne loves to travel, spend time with family and is an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan!