Down syndrome is a condition caused by the presence of all or part of an extra copy of chromosome 21. With improvements in care, individuals with Down syndrome are living longer and more productive lives. Adults with Down syndrome appear to age prematurely with physical changes occurring about 20-30 years ahead of other adults.
It has been recently recognized that individuals with Down syndrome are at increased risk for developing dementia and changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer disease. Specifically, amyloid, the protein found in the brain of individuals with Alzheimer disease, has been also found to be present in adults with Down syndrome. These changes in the brain that do not occur in the rest of the population until their late 60’s may appear in people with Down syndrome in their 40’s.
The reason Alzheimer disease is more common in people with Down syndrome is not fully understood. Some studies suggest that the higher risk for Alzheimer disease in individuals with Down syndrome may be related to the extra copy of chromosome 21, because a gene known to increase the possibility for amyloid is located on this chromosome.
As research comes closer to being able to develop medications to decrease progression and potentially delay the onset of Alzheimer disease, identification of changes in the brain indicative of Alzheimer disease are becoming critical for adults with Down syndrome. Individuals with Down syndrome have a wide range in their level of functioning and it may be difficult to administer the standard testing for Alzheimer disease. Reliable testing methods are needed to evaluate changes that reflect the Alzheimer disease in people with Down syndrome.
The research team at IND is conducting brain imaging research to identify adults with Down syndrome, who are at risk for developing Alzheimer disease, at the earliest possible stages. Recently developed imaging techniques aimed at detecting amyloid in the brain are now available in research trials at IND and other specialty imaging centers. This imaging appears to detect amyloid changes in the brain prior to the onset of changes in thinking and functon. Click here to watch a WTNH news video about our research on this topic. Click here for a brochure,“For Adults with Down Syndrome”.