NBC News (September 6, 2013): How Down Syndrome May Help Unravel Alzheimer's Puzzle

Publication Date: 
Fri, 09/06/2013

Scientists have known for decades that people with Down syndrome were at increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, but they didn't know why. Some researchers now believe that understanding the connection between the two conditions might help us unravel the Alzheimer's puzzle and point towards therapies that might slow, or even halt, the dreaded disease.

"It's a tantalizing and provocative question:  Do people with Down syndrome hold the key to the mystery of Alzheimer's development?" Dr. Brian Skotko, co-director of the Down Syndrome Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said in a telephone interview. "And what can we learn from those with Down syndrome that will benefit the rest of the population?"

Not only do more people with Down syndrome develop Alzheimer's, but they also develop it at a much younger age. By age 40, a full 40 percent of people with Down syndrome will develop the disease, and by age 50, that rises to 50 percent, Skotko told TODAY'S Maria Shriver.

While not everyone with Down syndrome develop dementia, all develop changes in their brains that are found in Alzheimer's patients.