Alzheimer’s & Down Syndrome: What’s The Connection?

Down syndrome is one of the more common genetic disorders, characterized by mental retardation and underdeveloped facial structures. They also have a very high rate of heart disease, and if they live long enough, many will go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease. It’s been shown that the Alzheimer’s disease process in Down patients is identical to what’s seen in regular Alzheimer’s patients, except that it occurs much earlier (40s and 50s).

We know that Down patients have severely underdeveloped mid and lower jaws. Typically, the tongue will seem too big, and quite often they’ll snore. One study in 1991 showed that 45% of Down patients had obstructive sleep apnea. If you recalculate this number based on more recent scoring criteria, that number will probably be much higher.

It’s likely that the more severe the degree of obstructive sleep apnea, the more narrow the jaws, and the more severe the mental retardation. It’s a given that untreated sleep apnea will cause major brain damage. You could also show that the highly functioning Down patients will have less severe sleep apnea. Of course, you’ll have to do a study to prove this. Intuitively, this makes sense.

What do you think about this connection?

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2 thoughts on “Alzheimer’s & Down Syndrome: What’s The Connection?

  1. I completely agree with you. I have a daughter with DS and we are dealing with sleep apnea. I am always trying to see other high functioning individuals with DS and see what the palate looks like and ask how the sleep is for that individual.

  2. Linda,

    When you look inside the mouth, notice how high the tongue sits in relation to the soft palate. Can you see the uvula, the free edge of the soft palate, or the lower part of the soft palate at all? Does the tongue seem too big? Is the hard palate arched upwards? Does the person like to sleep on their back, side, or stomach? Any snoring? Thanks for helping to make the connection.