People with Down’s syndrome have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This is because most people with Down’s syndrome will have clumps of amyloid and tau proteins in their brains by the age of 40 – these are believed to cause Alzheimer’s disease. Two thirds of people with Down’s syndrome develop Alzheimer’s by the age of 60.

Join Dementia Research is supporting studies looking at the link between the conditions.

The role of sleep dysfunction

One risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is a lack of sleep, as this is linked with poor brain health. More than 50% of people with Down’s syndrome experience difficulty sleeping due to other health conditions such as sleep apnea, where breathing repeatedly stops and starts.

The role of sleep dysfunction in Down syndrome Alzheimer’s disease study, led by University of Cambridge, is looking at how quality of sleep affects Alzheimer’s-related brain changes in people with Down’s syndrome. 

The study involves participants with Down’s syndrome wearing  a fitbit for a week to measure their sleeping patterns. They will also have a brain scan, blood tests and neurological assessments to gather information on their brain and general health. Siblings of participants are also take part in  these tests, to compare the two. 

It is hoped that this information will help researchers further understand why people with Down’s syndrome are at higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and which medications could help. 

The study aims to recruit 50 participants from across the UK before it closes in 2025. 

Identifying biomarkers 

Another study, Alzheimer’s disease Biomarkers Consortium – Down’s Syndrome (ABC-DS), is looking at identifying early biomarkers that may signify the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. It is hoped that the results of this research can be used to help healthcare professionals diagnose Alzheimer’s disease earlier. 

These biomarkers can include changes to the brain such as differences in size and the presence of amyloid and tau proteins. 

The University of Cambridge-led study, open to new participants until 2025, is recruiting people in the Cambridge area aged over 25 to 50 with a diagnosis of Down’s syndrome but no diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Participants will be asked to visit Cambridge 4 times over a 5 year period in order to have brain scans and complete memory tests. It is hoped that these tests will help researchers spot the early signs of Alzheimer’s before symptoms occur. 

To find out if you are eligible to take part in a dementia study, sign in to your Join Dementia Research account or, if you are not already registered, sign up today.