There are common questions that we can answer about all health topics, such as "What is it?" and "How many people are affected." Answers to these questions are found under Condition Information. Each health topic frequently has specific questions that pertain only to that topic. We have answered those in this section.
Is there a cure for Down syndrome?
Currently, there is no cure for Down syndrome. However, researchers are exploring a number of ways to address and correct many aspects of the syndrome.
For example, NICHD researchers have used mouse models to test treatments for preventing the intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) associated with Down syndrome. One study found that mice with Down syndrome who were treated in the womb with specific chemicals had no delay in achieving several developmental milestones.1 Another study found that specific chemicals prevented learning deficits in adult mice who had Down syndrome.2
Learn more about NICHD research on Down syndrome.
What are the health issues for adults with Down syndrome?
The life expectancy for people with Down syndrome has increased substantially in the last few decades, to an average age of 50 years and beyond. In addition to living longer, people with Down syndrome now live fuller, richer lives than ever before as family members and contributors to their community. Many adults with Down syndrome form meaningful relationships and eventually marry. Now that people with Down syndrome are living longer, the needs of adults with Down syndrome are receiving greater attention. With assistance from family and caretakers, many adults with Down syndrome have developed the skills required to hold jobs and to live independently well into later adult life.
Increased life expectancy in individuals with Down syndrome puts them at risk as they age for developing mental health issues, such as depression. Death of parents, changes in caregivers, and medical issues often contribute to such changes in mental health. Individuals with Down syndrome seem to respond well to treatment with medication, but it is important that they follow instructions for taking these medications closely.3
Premature aging is a characteristic of adults with Down syndrome, as is dementia, memory loss, and impaired judgment similar to that occurring in individuals with Alzheimer disease.3 Although much has been learned about Alzheimer disease as it affects individuals with Down syndrome, effective treatments and diagnostic tools that can identify early stages of dementia or the symptoms of mild cognitive impairment are still needed. Currently, changes in behavior may be the best indicators of dementia in people with Down syndrome. Families should look for associations between the type of behavior, how often the behavior occurs, when the behavior occurs, and the persistence of specific behaviors as a way to check for dementia and memory loss in a person with Down syndrome.3,4 Family members and caretakers may need to step in if the individual begins to lose the skills required for independent living.
Other medical issues associated with aging in individuals with Down syndrome include high cholesterol (which can be treated with medications), obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cataracts and other visual problems, and early menopause. In contrast, individuals with Down syndrome appear to be "protected" from certain diseases that are common in the elderly: they do not develop hardening of the arteries; they have fewer solid tumor cancers (for example, breast cancer), and they have low blood pressure.5,6,7,8
Longitudinal studies of aging in Down syndrome (some ongoing for more than 25 years) reveal that healthy aging occurs in most individuals with Down syndrome if they continue to receive routine medical care and attention to their special needs.
- Toso, L., Cameroni, I., Roberson, R., Abebe, D., Bissell, S., & Spong, C. Y. (2008). Prevention of developmental delays in a Down syndrome mouse model. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 112, 1242–1251. [top]
- Incerti, M., Toso, L., Vink, J., Roberson, R., Nold, C., Abebe, D., & Spong, C. Y. (2011). Prevention of learning deficit in a Down syndrome model. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 117, 354–361. [top]
- Urv, T. K., Zigman, W. B., & Silverman, W. (2010). Psychiatric symptoms in adults with Down syndrome and Alzheimer's disease. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 115, 265–276. [top]
- Krinsky-McHale, S. J., Devenny D. A., Kittler, P., & Silverman, W. (2008). Selective attention deficits associated with mild cognitive impairment and early stage Alzheimer's disease in adults with Down syndrome. American Journal of Mental Retardation, 113, 369–386. [top]
- Draheim, C. C., Geijer, J. R., & Dengel, D. R. (2010). Comparison of intima-media thickness of the carotid artery and cardiovascular disease risk factors in adults with versus without the Down syndrome. American Journal of Cardiology, 106, 1512–1516. [top]
- Rodrigues, A. N., Coelho, L. C., Goncalves, W. L., Gouvea, S. A., Vasconcellos, M. J., Cunha, R. S., & Abreu, G. R. (2011). Stiffness of the large arteries in individuals with and without Down syndrome. Journal of Vascular Health Risk Management, 7, 375–381. [top]
- Ehara, H., Ohno, K., & Ito H. (2011). Benign and malignant tumors in Down syndrome: Analysis of the 1514 autopsied cases in Japan. Pediatrics International, 53, 72–77. [top]
- Kwak, H. I., Gustafson, T., Metz, R. P., Laffin, B., Schedin, P., & Porter W. W. (2007). Inhibition of breast cancer growth and invasion by single-minded 2s. Carcinogenesis, 28, 259–266. [top]