Disabilities and Dementia

Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities may be at increased risk for dementia. Additionally, it can be difficult for caregivers and health care providers to distinguish dementia symptoms from symptoms associated with an existing intellectual or developmental disability. It’s important to work with your health care provider (link to Health Care Provider – Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities webpage) to ensure older adults with disabilities and dementia get the best possible care.  

A human typically has 26 pairs of chromosomes that house the body’s genetic material. However, individuals with Trisomy 21, commonly known as “Down syndrome”, have a third copy of Chromosome 21. Researchers have identified that Chromosome 21 has the gene that codes for APP, or “amyloid precursor protein”.1 This protein can lead to the buildup of fragmented beta-amyloid protein plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease. Because individuals with Down syndrome have a partial of full third copy of chromosome 21, they are more likely to develop an excess buildup of beta-amyloid plaques. Current research has shown that this causes individuals with Down syndrome to be at higher risk for developing Alzheimer's disease. By age 40 most individuals with Down syndrome have beta-amyloid plaques and tau tangles associated with Alzheimer's disease. Diagnosis of Alzheimer's typically occurs at age 50-60 in individuals with Down syndrome with 30% of these individuals in their 50s developing Alzheimer’s. Over 50% of individuals with Down syndrome will develop Alzheimer’s disease by the time they are in their 60s.2 An additional challenge that individuals with Down Syndrome and Alzheimer’s face is differing treatment options. Because of the metabolic differences associated with Down syndrome, individuals are unable to take some medications that are typically used to treat behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s. As medicine advances allowing individuals with Down syndrome to overcome other medical challenges, they will continue to live longer. The relationship between Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease is still not fully understood, but research is underway to learn more.  

Specific research opportunities exist for individuals of any age with Down Syndrome.

DS-Connect: Down Syndrome Registry
The National Institutes of Health has DS-Connect which allows individuals with Down syndrome and their family to be involved in research including clinical studies and confidential health surveys. 

If you are interested in other research opportunities, check out our research webpage!

This Page Last Updated: October 11, 2021 at 1:35 PM