Serving the Underserved: Caring for People Who Are Both Old and Mentally Retarded: A Handbook for Caregivers

By Mary C. Howell; Deirdre G. Gavin et al. | Go to book overview

it. I am convinced, and it is the reason that I write this, that compassionate, affectionate caregiving is the nearest thing to a key that there is to maintaining a maximum level of functioning in the population we are talking about.


36
THE DOWN SYNDROME ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE CONNECTION

Mary C. Howell

Down syndrome is a genetically-determined condition characterized by premature aging. The person with Down syndrome shows typical and usual signs of physical aging, such as greying of hair, loss of efficiency of renal and cardiovascular function, loss of elasticity in a variety of body tissues, and decrements in the acuity of vision and hearing, earlier than are seen in people who do not have Down syndrome. The usual estimate is one to two decades earlier.

Alzheimer's disease is a condition in which some common symptoms of aging in the central nervous system are seen at an earlier age than in most of the population, and in an accelerated and virulent manner. In his original published description, in the first decade of this century, Alzheimer defined the syndrome by the occurrence of certain characteristic markers, called tangles and plaques, found in high concentrations in certain areas of the brain at post mortem examination. There are also characteristic behaviors, and a typical clinical course, that we use to make a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease while the person is still alive.

It has been observed that virtually everyone with Down syndrome, when examined at post mortem, shows the concentration and distribution in the brain of tangles and plaques that we consider to be

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