Many but not all people with Down syndrome develop Alzheimer’s disease when they get older.
People with Down syndrome are born with an extra copy of chromosome 21, which carries a gene that produces a specific protein called amyloid precursor protein (APP). Too much APP protein leads to a buildup of protein clumps called beta-amyloid plaques in the brain.
The presence of beta-amyloid plaques is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease.
By age 40, most people with Down syndrome have these plaques, along with other protein deposits, called tau tangles, which cause problems with how brain cells function and increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s symptoms. Estimates suggest that 50% or more of people with Down syndrome will develop dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease as they age.
This type of Alzheimer’s in people with Down syndrome is not passed down genetically from a parent to a child.
10 Ways to Help a Family Living with Alzheimer’s
Educate yourself about Alzheimer’s disease. Learn about its effects and how to respond.
Stay in touch. A card, a call or a visit means a lot and shows you care.
Be patient. Adjusting to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is an ongoing process and each person reacts differently.
Offer a shoulder to lean on. The disease can create stress for the entire family. Simply offering your support and friendship is helpful.
Engage the person with dementia in conversation. It’s important to involve the person in conversation even when his or her ability to participate becomes more limited.
Offer to help the family with its to-do list. Prepare a meal, run an errand or provide a ride.
Engage family members in activities. Invite them to take a walk or participate in other activities.
Offer family members a reprieve. Spend time with the person living with dementia so family members can go out alone or visit with friends.
Be flexible. Don’t get frustrated if your offer for support is not accepted immediately. The family may need time to assess its needs.
Support the Alzheimer’s cause.