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Those with Down syndrome living longer, developing Alzheimer's

Decades ago, people with Down syndrome and their families rarely had to deal with neurological illnesses normally associated with old age, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Though it is grim to say so, the fact was that few with this intellectual disability lived long enough to face dementia.

Thanks to medical advances, people with Down syndrome are living longer than ever. But because of their genetic makeup, this means that they are at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s, Disability Scoop reports. Those with both Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease often lose skills and mental abilities they may have spent years learning.

As a result, those who had been living in group homes or otherwise with relative independence may have to move in with parents or other relatives. As they lose the ability to care for themselves, loved ones must take over, watching over them and making sure they are fed and safe.

Everyone may be at risk of developing Alzheimer’s someday, depending on their genes. But Down syndrome makes it especially likely that a person will also get Alzheimer’s, and at a relatively young age. At least 25 percent of people older than 40 who have Down syndrome also have Alzheimer’s. By their 60s, more than 50 percent of Down syndrome patients have developed Alzheimer’s, compared with 6 percent of the general population.

It appears the reason for this is that the causes of these mental conditions are similar. Down syndrome is caused when the patient has an extra copy of the 21st chromosome. That chromosome carries the gene that produces proteins associated with changes in the brain that lead to Alzheimer’s in many cases.

Not only can Alzheimer’s be distressing for an intellectually disabled patient, it can also put a financial strain on their family. Supplemental Security Income can help many people who have never worked due to a disability and need financial assistance.

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