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Down syndrome and the early onset of Alzheimer's disease

Recent news has highlighted the link between Down syndrome and the early onset of Alzheimer's disease, although diagnosis is sometimes difficult due to the inherent developmental disability. Researchers have been aware of the link for over 50 years but the more definitive knowledge about the relationship is fairly new.

Down syndrome occurs when a person has three copies of chromosome 21 instead of the usual two copies. It is chromosome 21 that has the gene, which prompts the development of lesions in the brain common to Alzheimer's. Autopsies show that by age 40, folks with Down syndrome have high levels of plaques, but not all people with Down syndrome have Alzheimer's symptoms.

The question becomes why some people with Down syndrome develop the disease and others do not, as well as why people without Down syndrome end up with Alzheimer's disease. The good news is that not every one with Down syndrome will develop Alzheimer's and as research continues, the hope to eradicate Alzheimer's remains alive.

Comments? Questions? Contact Pat Wright.

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