Today, there are 5.8 million reported cases of Down syndrome (Trisomy 21) around the world. Some are adults and some are children, but with our current accommodations, people with Down syndrome are commonly living into their seventies. This topic is important to discuss this month because it is being Down Syndrome Awareness Month.
Now, with aging comes depleted health for everyone. Comparatively, we are able to observe a process called “Accelerated Aging” in adults with Trisomy 21. To put it simply, this process is almost exactly what it sounds like. Adults with this ailment experience the health issues that are normally faced later in adulthood much earlier. They also tend to experience many more health issues in old age than those not affected by Down syndrome.
The first, and very common, problem adults with Down syndrome face is the loss of senses. This is most commonly characterized by vision and hearing impairments. As far as visual diminishment goes, it alters cataracts and changes in the shape of the cornea. For hearing problems, conductive hearing loss is a very prominent issue for them. Though these are the most common sensory issues observed, they are not the only ones. The expression of these sensory issues is often seen as stubborn attitude or confusion by caregivers.
Aside from the perpetual challenges with sensory issues faced by adults with Down syndrome, there are a number of problems with brain function. For example; Alzheimer’s disease, mental or behavioral disorders are all problems commonly faced by adults with Down syndrome. It is much more common for them to face early onset Alzheimer’s, and this is especially challenging because it is hard to detect the normal signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s in those with Trisomy 21. Other issues include mental or behavioral disorders. More specifically, adults with Down syndrome commonly experience anxiety, depression, OCD or other behavioral abnormalities.
Another common health issue for adults with Down syndrome is muscular and skeletal issues. Osteoarthritis and Osteoporosis are two very common manifestations of these issues. Osteoarthritis is much more common in adults with Down’s Syndrome due to hyper flexibility in their joints that causes more wear and tear. Osteoporosis is the general thinning of bones which leads to increased fractures. These difficulties do occur normally in old age, but they are much more common among those with Trisomy 21.
The last type of ailment most commonly experienced by adults with Trisomy 21 is dietary and metabolic issues. The two most commonly observed characterizations of these issues are Celiac Disease and Thyroid Abnormalities. Celiac Disease is severe intolerance to gluten and wheat, and this creates many necessary diet restrictions. Thyroid Abnormalities result in improper metabolic processes. Noticing these issues can be difficult for caregivers.
As previously discussed, adults with Down syndrome do experience a large number of health issues earlier in adulthood than those without. This experience is not something popularly discussed, but I do think that it is an important topic. So read about it, talk about it and recognize it.