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Down Syndrome and Early Aging: Alzheimer’s Disease
One of the challenges adults with Down Syndrome face is the early development of brain degeneration that occurs in individuals as early as the age of 30-40 years of age. Down Syndrome is a chromosome disorder that can affect a person physically and mentally. Alzheimer’s Disease is a form of dementia that impairs cognitive functions in the brain that are irreversible. Alzheimer’s has been linked as the neurodegenerative disease for early aging in Down Syndrome due to a significant decline in cognitive functioning compared to individuals with mild intellectual disabilities. Many biological factors play a role in how Alzheimer’s Disease affects adults with down syndrome, but there are ongoing studies to understand the underlying causes. Amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles have been the focus in research to understand why they destroy the nerve cells in the brain at such an early age in adults who have Down Syndrome. While people who have Down Syndrome live longer lives than estimated before, they are at risk of having early onset of physiological aging, because of biological changes in the brain.
There is still much to learn about why individuals with Down Syndrome have a trisomy 21 copied into their genes that can alter changes in a person’s characteristics also referred to as a person with Intellectual Disabilities. Sometimes people with Intellectual Disability develop developmental problems and health issues that make them different from people without Intellectual Disabilities. Intellectual disability is a term now used instead of mental retardation for individuals with down syndrome. People who have down syndrome do not have the capabilities to intellectually function than their peers with mild intellectual disabilities in which sometimes can lead to early dementia at the early age of 40 years old. Dementia which leads to Alzheimer’s Disease is responsible for brain damage, enabling a person’s ability to live and function independently. ( science direct ). As people age, they can develop Alzheimer’s by the age of 65. Adults with Down syndrome will develop Alzheimer Disease resulting in neurodegeneration and premature aging in the brain.
A factor of Alzheimer’s Disease is the neurodegeneration that occurs in the brains of individuals with Down Syndrome. Studies have suggested that an increase in a protein called Beta-amyloid found in Alzheimer’s results in the buildup of oxidative damage, accumulation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the cerebral cortex of the brain ( the assement of executive functionsing ). Amyloid plaque is a buildup that caused by beta-amyloid proteins that are toxic to neurons in the brain resulting in brain cell death. This process is responsible for the early onset of Alzheimer Disease in individuals with Down Syndrome. Once the amyloid plaque builds up in the brain, the long-term term chances of an adult with Down Syndrome who develops Alzheimer’s has a decrease in longevity and Alzheimer’s is a progressive and irreversible disease ( ). Research studies suggest that Alzheimer’s develops early in the brain around the age of 8-12 years old. The severity of Alzheimer’s and Down Syndrome linked together can become fatal than people living with Alzheimer’s alone.
There are other risk factors that involve the development of the neurodegenerative disease Alzheimer’s in aging individuals who have Down Syndrome. One risk factor is oxidative stress that can lead to abnormal aerobic metabolism that attacks neural cells in the brain which is a contributor to Alzheimer’s Disease. ( ). Neuroinflammation of the genes on chromosome 21 becomes overexpressed allowing cells to disturb the genetic information, which activates amyloid plaque in the brain. The cells referred to as Microglial Cells are associated with the neuroinflammation that occurs in Alzheimer’s and Down Syndrome.
Another factor of Alzheimer’s in Down Syndrome is the “evidence of white matter” ( ) in the brain that has degenerated extensively, because of beta-amyloid deposits that are also prevalent in other people with Intellectual Disabilities. Immune system dysfunction is another factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, because of the incidence of autoimmune and infectious diseases is higher as it contributes to beta-amyloid plaque formation. There are more determining factors to be studied to determine the exact reasons of early onset of Alzheimer’s in individuals with Down Syndrome. According to the research, the beta-amyloid protein is the leading factor in the early onset of Alzheimer’s Disease in individuals with Down Syndrome.
Adults living with Down Syndrome are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s at an early age, although all adults that have down syndrome will not experience cognitive deterioration. The longevity of a person with Down Syndrome who develops Alzheimer’s decreases, because of the molecular and biological cellular changes in the brain that increases neurodegeneration.

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