Using Down Syndrome Research to Open New Answers to Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is an incurable, degenerative brain disease that affects more than 5 million people in the United States alone, with devastating social and financial costs.

People with Down syndrome inherit three copies of chromosome 21, instead of two copies, and thus they also inherit three copies of a key Alzheimer’s disease-causing gene that resides on chromosome 21. By the age of 40 years, virtually everyone with Down syndrome has Alzheimer’s disease-associated brain pathology. Surprisingly, around 45 percent of people with Down syndrome never develop the dementia that typically follows the appearance of Alzheimer’s disease-associated brain pathology.

Thus, Down syndrome provides an ideal opportunity to study the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and to uncover the protective mechanisms that may prevent dementia. Intriguingly, every person with typical age-related Alzheimer’s disease develops many Down syndrome-like (trisomy 21) cells throughout their body, including neurons in the brain. This makes the study of the relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and Down syndrome a fertile territory for developing new Alzheimer’s disease treatments.

Source: Rocky Mountain Alzheimer’s Disease Center

According to a Stanford University study, 40 percent of Alzheimer's caregivers will die from stress-related disorders before the person for whom they care dies. So, anything that can help you reduce stress is vitally important to you and your loved ones.

Knowing your options

The first thing to understand is you are not alone; you have the right to ask for and receive help. There are many options available to obtain this much-needed and deserved support.

Adult day care centers are designed to provide services to adults who need supervised care in a safe place outside the home during the day. Adult day cares also allow you to have some much-needed time-out for yourself. Respite programs are also available to help you get temporary relief and may utilize available beds in health care facilities or even be provided in-home.

Asking for help

The “Reverse Gift List” teaches how to ask for support from friends, relatives and neighbors. List 10 simple tasks you do as a family caregiver. Then match the task to a specific person and ask for help. Example of tasks: pick up medicines, watch dad for two hours, make insurance calls. The people you ask will more than likely be glad to be able to offer clear-cut support.   

Additionally, support groups allow you to talk freely online or in-person with people who understand what you are going through and can share their own pieces of the caregiving puzzle, as well as lend a shoulder. Depending upon the situation, support groups can also be of value to your loved one.

After his multiple myeloma diagnosis in 1990, I couldn’t convince my dad to consider a support group. Imagine my surprise when one evening during “NBC Nightly News,” when Tom Brokaw was reporting on cancer support groups and the story included a short video of a group meeting, where I saw my dad holding court. Later he told me how much he regretted not finding the group earlier, as they had become such an important part of his life. Dad passed soon after.