Understanding Alzheimer's disease and Down syndrome

July 26, 2017 by Mallory Powell

People who have Down syndrome may develop Alzheimer's disease at a younger age than people without Down syndrome. Recently, however, research showed that some people with Down syndrome might not develop dementia at all. Doctors and researchers are still trying to learn why some people with Down syndrome develop dementia, either earlier or later, while others don't.

Currently, only a few of the approved drug treatments for Alzheimer's have been tested to see if they work for with Down , and these treatments offer few benefits. It's critical, then, for us to learn more about normal aging and Alzheimer's disease in people with Down syndrome.

  1. At the University of Kentucky, we have been funded since 2009 by the National Institutes of Health to follow a group of volunteers with Down syndrome. We've learned about several important changes that happen in the brain as people with Down syndrome age:
  2. We've learned that connections in the brain called tracts—like the "wires" connecting different parts in our brains—may be different in people with Down syndrome. The , which is important to our personality, memory, and actions, appears to be less strongly connected to other parts of the brain in people with Down Syndrome. As these individuals get older, these connections become progressively weaker, possibly leading to personality changes and memory problems.
  3. We're learning that there may be changes in some blood proteins that indicate the need for different Alzheimer's treatments for people with Down syndrome than people without the condition. Some of these changes include higher levels of a protein called betaamyloid, which increases with age and may suddenly change as someone develops dementia. Other proteins include those involved with the immune system and inflammation, which appear to be higher in people with Down syndrome as they get older.
  4. We've learned about which kinds of learning and memory tests are helpful for diagnosing Alzheimer's disease and which are not. This understanding will help us determine which tests are most helpful in clinical trials that seek to determine if a treatment leads to improvements in learning and memory for people with Down syndrome.

Our work to understand Down syndrome and Alzheimer's disease continues. If you are at least 25 years old and have Down syndrome and are interested in participating in our research, please contact Roberta Davis, at 859.218.3865 or Roberta.Davis@uky.edu. Participation involves an annual visit including blood measures for wellness, neurologic examinations, tests of learning and , changes in walking, and brain imaging. More information is also available at www.uky.edu/DSAging .

Explore further: Researchers use imaging technique to predict dementia status in adults with down syndrome

Related Stories

Researchers use imaging technique to predict dementia status in adults with down syndrome

August 10, 2016
Researchers at the University of Kentucky Sanders-Brown Center on Aging found that magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), a noninvasive imaging technique, might help distinguish between people with Down syndrome who have ...

New research suggests connection between white matter and cognitive health

April 7, 2014
A multidisciplinary group of scientists from the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky have identified an interesting connection between the health of the brain tissue that supports cognitive functioning ...

Clinical trial investigates Alzheimer's disease drug in people with Down syndrome

May 31, 2017
A phase 2 clinical trial in young adults with Down syndrome of a drug being investigated for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease supports further investigation of its potential. Results of the four-week trial of scyllo-inositol, ...

Studying Down syndrome might help us understand Alzheimer's disease better

May 5, 2015
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia in older adults. At the moment there is no cure, but many clinicians feel that the earlier one is diagnosed, the better the possibilities are for treatment or slowing ...

UCI study reveals why Down syndrome boosts susceptibility to other conditions

January 11, 2013
A study led by UC Irvine researchers has revealed some of the underlying neural factors that explain why people with Down syndrome are more susceptible to Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and autistic spectrum disorders.

Babies with Down syndrome could help delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease

July 3, 2014
Alzheimer's disease is typically a disease of later life, and age is the biggest known risk factor for the condition. But babies with Down syndrome, who always develop brains like those with Alzheimer's later in life, don't ...

Recommended for you

Major cause of dementia discovered

December 11, 2017
An international team of scientists have confirmed the discovery of a major cause of dementia, with important implications for possible treatment and diagnosis.

Canola oil linked to worsened memory and learning ability in Alzheimer's

December 7, 2017
Canola oil is one of the most widely consumed vegetable oils in the world, yet surprisingly little is known about its effects on health. Now, a new study published online December 7 in the journal Scientific Reports by researchers ...

Genetics study suggests that education reduces risk of Alzheimer's disease

December 7, 2017
The theory that education protects against Alzheimer's disease has been given further weight by new research from the University of Cambridge, funded by the European Union. The study is published today in the BMJ.

Healthy mitochondria could stop Alzheimer's

December 6, 2017
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and neurodegeneration worldwide. A major hallmark of the disease is the accumulation of toxic plaques in the brain, formed by the abnormal aggregation of a protein called ...

Alzheimer's damage in mice reduced with compound that targets APOE gene

December 6, 2017
People who carry the APOE4 genetic variant face a substantial risk for developing Alzheimer's disease.

Lithium in water associated with slower rate of Alzheimer's disease deaths

December 5, 2017
Rates of diabetes and obesity, which are important risk factors for Alzheimer's disease, also decrease if there is a particular amount of lithium in the water, says the study, published recently in the Journal of Alzheimer's ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.