The Connection between Alzheimer’s and Down Syndrome

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Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have been studying an experimental Alzheimer’s drug and have been welcoming willing participants with Down syndrome. Researchers wanted to test the drug on those with Down syndrome because all individuals with the disorder are predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease. Below is some information provided by the staff at Home Care Assistance of Palm Beach to help explain the powerful connection between both conditions.

About Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a result of the death of brain cells that lead to memory loss, cognitive decline, and impaired reasoning and judgment. Currently, nearly five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, but the causes, although research is ongoing, are not definitive. The evidence suggests that the risk for AD increases depending on genetics, environmental factors, age, and may be influenced by lifestyle choices.

About Down Syndrome

Normally, humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes. Down syndrome, a congenital abnormality, is when abnormal cell division or changes occur in the 21stchromosome, usually during the early stages of embryonic development. The result is extra genetic material or a third copy of the chromosome. Every year, approximately 1 out of every 691 children born in the United States has Down syndrome.

The Alzheimer’s-Down Connection

People who have Down syndrome will most likely develop AD symptoms by age 40. The gene responsible for the production of the amyloid protein that leads to Alzheimer’s is also located on chromosome #21. Because those with Down syndrome have an extra copy of this chromosome, they’re predisposed to the disease. Nevertheless, not everyone with DS will get AD; and in fact, only 50% do. This large difference could be the result of differences in lifestyle, diet, or environmental issues. However, discovering the genetic connection is already encouraging research for new treatments and studies are being done as to whether AD is a developmental type of Down syndrome. The biggest benefit of treating those with Down syndrome for AD is that hopefully a successful medication or treatment, when discovered, can be used on the population as whole. Jon Hamilton writes in his NPR article entitled “People With Down Syndrome Are Pioneers In Alzheimer’s Research” that, “Early therapy means starting people on drug treatment years before the symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear.” In the same article, William Mobley, chairman of the neuroscience department at UCSD, said, “Imagine someday a drug that we all start taking when we’re 25 so we never get Alzheimer’s disease.” Home Care Assistance of Palm Beach would certainly welcome such a medication. However, if your elderly loved one is currently living with Alzheimer’s disease and is in need of in-home support, care and monitoring, contact us at 561.429.8292 to see how one of our trained and experienced Alzheimer’s caregivers in Palm Beach could help.


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