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Alzheimer’s disease and Down syndrome

Understanding the connection may lead to treatment


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 while others don’t.

The University of Kentucky, since 2009, has followed a group of volunteers with Down syndrome, and discovered several important changes that happen in the brain as people with Down syndrome age.

Connections in the brain called white matter tracts—like the “wires” connecting different parts in our brains—may be different in people with Down syndrome. The frontal lobe, 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.

There may be changes in some blood proteins, including those involved with the immune system and inflammation, which appear to be higher in people with Down syndrome as they get older.

Some kinds of learning and memory tests are helpful for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease and some are not. This could help determine which tests are most helpful in clinical trials. If you are at least 25 years old and have Down syndrome and are interested in participating in UK’s research, contact Roberta Davis, at (859) 218-3865,, or online at Participation involves an annual visit, including blood measures for wellness, neurologic examinations, tests of learning and memory, changes in walking, and brain imaging. KL

Elizabeth Head, PhD, and Frederick Schmitt, PhD, are the principal investigators for the Aging and Down Syndrome Research Study at the University of Kentucky.  


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