The Safety NetRisk Factors for Alzheimer's Disease Among People with Developmental Disabilities
Aging and Developmental Disabilities
Alzheimer’s disease is a disorder that is progressive and degenerative. It is marked by a gradual decline in brain function that worsens with time. Research indicates that approximately 10% of persons over the age of sixty-five exhibit symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Some persons with developmental disabilities may be at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease and concurrent loss of skills and functioning.
Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease
In the second stage of the disease, symptoms become more pronounced. This stage, also called the progressive stage, is marked by a significant decline in skills. Incontinence may become an increasing problem. Loss of sense of time and place is manifested by an inability to understand or follow instructions. Confusion and disorientation may lead to frustration. Significant personality changes, characterized by paranoia and delusions, may emerge.
The terminal or third stage of Alzheimer’s disease results in substantial loss of the most basic skills such as eating and drinking. Memory for both short and long term is nearly nonexistent. Loss of skills and resulting inactivity, including the need for total care, may result in increased health risks and lead to death.
It should be noted that many disorders other than Alzheimer’s disease can cause some of the symptoms described above. Conditions such as stroke, depression and head trauma, for example, are treatable. When any of the symptoms above are noticed, a thorough medical evaluation must be the first step.
The New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities estimates that 2-3% of persons over age forty who have a developmental disability will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Of that number, about 60% have Down syndrome. Persons with Down syndrome are also at increased risk for early hearing and vision changes associated with aging.
The purpose of the evaluation is to determine if the observed changes are attributable to any other cause and treat it. These evaluations and tests may be done over a period of time as symptoms are observed and not necessarily all at once. If no other cause is found, continued observation, annual physicals and other measures should be used to determine changes in skills. Alzheimer’s disease may take eight to ten years to develop and during that period it is important to provide supports for the individual so that they can remain as independent as possible.
There are many web sites of interest to the clinical profession who wishes to know more about aging and developmental disabilities. The Alzheimer’s Association may be accessed through the links at the bottom of the Homepage of this web site. The Arc has a detailed article about the disease located at http://thearc.org/misc/alzbk.html.
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