Down Syndrome (cont.)

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How do adolescents with Down syndrome develop?

Adolescents with Down syndrome undergo the same hormonal changes during puberty as typically developing children. Girls with Down syndrome have regular menstrual periods and should receive instructions on hygiene. Although women with Down syndrome are not very fertile, they can become pregnant. Men with Down syndrome have low sperm count, but in some cases have fathered children. Proper education regarding sexual development and contraception is very important.

What should one expect for adults with Down syndrome?

Individuals with Down syndrome live longer than ever before. Due to full inclusion in society, many adults with Down syndrome now live semi-independently, enjoy relationships, work, and contribute to their community.

Adults with Down syndrome also age faster than average. The older they become, the higher the risk of developing hypothyroidism, late-onset seizures (tonic-clonic seizures in particular), memory loss, and dementia. By age 40, many individuals with Down syndrome will show signs of dementia and early-onset Alzheimer's disease. By age 65, over 75% of adults will develop Alzheimer's disease. Why individuals with Down syndrome age prematurely and why they develop Alzheimer's disease is not entirely clear. At least one gene (the amyloid precursor protein) on chromosome 21 is thought to be involved in Alzheimer's disease. Since individuals with Down syndrome have three copies of this gene, it is likely that this gene contributes to the increased occurrence of Alzheimer's disease in this population.

Detecting dementia and early signs of Alzheimer's disease is a challenge in individuals with Down syndrome who are often already cognitively impaired. It is important for caregivers and doctors to be aware of changes in skills necessary for independence.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/4/2014

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