People with down syndrome are paving the way for a future free of Alzheimer's. Down syndrome occurs most commonly when a person is born with an extra copy of chromosome 21. This birth defect almost guarantees the predisposition of Alzheimer's.
There is no cure for Alzheimer's, referred to as AD, which is a form of dementia effecting thinking, memory and behavior. The disease can be managed by medication, but will inevitability progress worse and worse.
AD normally presents itself around the mid-60's. For those with down syndrome, AD can present as early as the mid-40's. This syndrome is often accompanied by many medical issues. These issues typically are the cause of a shortened lifespan which is one reason these trials have been such a long time coming. Now with the advances in science and medicine, people with DS have a life expectancy of 60+ years.
Another reason it has been difficult to hold clinical trials for preventive medications is due to the unpredictability of AD before symptoms are present. Now with the help of volunteers diagnosed with down syndrome, Dr. William Mobley and Elan Pharmaceuticals are able to conduct such clinical trials that may one day allow for early therapy and the prevention of Alzheimer's disease.
Prevention is, of course, a long term goal. These studies are allowing doctors to search for any biological sign that a person will indeed develop Alzheimer's. DS patients have already helped prove the important link between Alzheimer's and amyloid, a plaque found in the spaces between the brain’s nerve cells. They have also helped test an eye exam that may be the key to spotting Alzheimer's before there are any symptoms present.
People with down syndrome hold the key to unlock the mysteries of Alzheimer's disease. Hopefully with the many discoveries doctors are making, we will soon have one less thing to worry about as we age gracefully.
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