"A neonate with Down's?" by Sadasiv Swain is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Adults with Down’s Syndrome at High Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
"A neonate with Down's?" by Sadasiv Swain is licensed under CC BY 2.0Rosalyn Hithersay

Kings College, London 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: In our research group, we have been following a large group of adults with Down syndrome in the UK to track changes with ageing in their health and cognitive function. It has been known for some time now that people with Down syndrome are at high risk for developing dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease. This new study has shown the huge impact that this risk has on mortality for these adults.

We found that dementia is now the likely underlying cause of death in more than 70% of adults with Down syndrome aged over 35 years. This is a much bigger proportion of deaths due to Alzheimer’s disease compared to the general population: in England and Wales only 17.5% of deaths past the age of 65 would be related to dementia of any kind. 

 MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Adults with Down syndrome are at high risk of developing dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease, and this risk is closely related to mortality. However, some individuals with Down syndrome can live well into their 60’s with few signs of cognitive decline.

One potential problem with knowing that people with Down syndrome are at very high risk of developing dementia is that sometimes the role of other health problems may be ignored. Our work shows that having better health in general can be protective. We hope this encourages people to pay careful attention to symptoms of other health conditions that can be treated, and to also see the importance of including Down syndrome individuals in Alzheimer’s disease research. 

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Our own research will continue following these same adults with Down syndrome, looking at changes in health and cognitive abilities over time. Our work is helping us identify sensitive cognitive tests that can track decline, but also be used as possible outcome measures for clinical trials. We are hoping to look at biomarkers in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid that may help identify individuals who are at greater risk and will also be using different methods of brain imaging to explore dementia-related changes in the structure and function of the brain in Down syndrome.

We hope that the results from this current study help other researcher’s understand the urgency to identify treatments to delay or prevent Alzheimer’s disease in this population.


Hithersay R, Startin CM, Hamburg S, et al. Association of Dementia With Mortality Among Adults With Down Syndrome Older Than 35 Years. JAMA Neurol. Published online November 19, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2018.3616

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Nov 19, 2018 @ 9:29 pm

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