Premature Aging

Adults with Down syndrome show undeniable signs of premature aging within their brains, and these features are detectable with routine MRI’s. Some people with Down syndrome begin aging more rapidly once they reach their middle 30s, showing graying hair and physical slowness. Cognitive function often declines with age in adults with Down syndrome age, particularly in tasks that require planning and attention. Intellectual deterioration occurs whether the adult lives at home or in an institutional setting. Also, adults with Down syndrome show decreased competency in both activities of daily living and cognitive skills as they age, even more so than adults with other forms of mental retardation.

Adults with Down syndrome generally show signs of accelerated aging that affects their functional abilities, more so than Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals with Down syndrome showed age-related declines about ten years earlier than the general population. Their personal and community living skills may decline significantly as adaptive behaviors deteriorate. However, auditory processing and comprehension knowledge continue to grow well beyond age 50.


INSTANT FEEDBACK:
Premature aging in adults with Down syndrome involves only physical changes, and living skills will not be affected.
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Adults with Down syndrome are at increased risk for a variety of other diseases and disorders which significantly affect their ability to perform activities of daily living. In one study, almost half of the adults had abnormal thyroid function, and one out of two had moderate to severe vision loss. Seventy percent of them had moderate, severe, or very severe hearing loss that was not previously diagnosed. The researchers strongly recommend a regular screening of all adults with Down syndrome to detect early dementia, epilepsy, hypothyroidism, and early loss of visual acuity or hearing. (Buggenhout, 1999) Clearly, many of these disorders can be treated once they are identified. Successful treatment can improve the functional status of the adult with Down syndrome.

Research is continuing to see how much of the decline in function can be attributed to the normal, albeit premature, aging in individuals with Down syndrome and how much is caused by Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Nurses who work with adults with Down syndrome are in a good position to identify signs of aging that may impact the patient’s ability to function at home and in the community. The following changes should be reported to the patient’s primary healthcare provider for further diagnosis and possible treatment:

It’s also important to encourage regular screenings for dementia, epilepsy, hypothyroidism, hearing loss, and visual impairments.


INSTANT FEEDBACK:
When an adult with Down syndrome has increasing difficulty taking care of himself, it’s important to screen for a variety of disorders.
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False