Alzheimer’s Disease and Down Syndrome
As an elder law attorney, I often work with elderly persons with Alzheimer’s Disease, persons with special needs resulting from Down Syndrome, and their families. Until today, however, I did not realize the two were linked in anyway. In fact, most, and perhaps all, persons with Down Syndrome will develop Alzheimer’s Disease. This makes special needs planning for middle aged persons with Down Syndrome that much more critical.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and is strongly associated with old age. The disease is progressive, and the brain degenerates. However, it should not be considered a normal part of aging. Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder in which a person has extra genes because of extra chromosome 21 material. The syndrome causes delays and limitations in physical and intellectual development. People with Down Syndrome will also develop the brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. Interestingly, Alzheimer’s Disease is not more common in individuals with other types of intellectual disabilities.
In people with Down Syndrome, the first symptoms usually develop at age 50 years, and the disease is usually diagnosed by age 52 years. An estimated 10%-25% of patients with Down Syndrome have Alzheimer’s Disease at age 40-49 years, 20%-50% have Alzheimer’s Disease at age 50-59 years, and 60%-75% have Alzheimer’s Disease when older than 60 years of age. Alzheimer’s Disease decreases survival in people with Down Syndrome who are older than 45 years of age.
The reason Alzheimer’s Disease is more common in people with Down Syndrome is not completely known. At early stages the main symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease are confusion, disorientation, and wandering. In persons with Down Syndrome, recognizing and diagnosing these early signs of Alzheimer’s Disease may be more difficult than in the elderly population.
The good news is that persons with Down Syndrome have much longer longevity that in prior generations. With that, however, will now bring on the complications of Alzheimer’s Disease. If you have a loved one with Down Syndrome in their 40s or older, you should give thoughtful consideration to consulting with an elder law attorney to be certain your loved one’s current and future needs will be met.