Many people who hear the words “Down syndrome” don’t really know what to expect from a person with the condition.
Down syndrome occurs in someone when they have a full or partial additional copy of chromosome 21. According to the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), “A few of the common physical traits of Down syndrome are low muscle tone, small stature, an upward slant to the eyes, and a single deep crease across the center of the palm – although each person with Down syndrome is a unique individual and may possess these characteristics to different degrees, or not at all.”
They note that one in every 700 babies born in the United States has Down syndrome, making it the most common chromosomal condition.
While in the past people used to look down on people with Down syndrome, thanks to medical advancements and increased understanding, people with this condition are living longer and happier lives.
When commenting on the effect Down syndrome has on society, the NDSS says this: “Individuals with Down syndrome are becoming increasingly integrated into society and community organizations, such as school, health care systems, work forces, and social and recreational activities. Individuals with Down syndrome possess varying degrees of cognitive delays, from very mild to severe. Most people with Down syndrome have cognitive delays that are mild to moderate.”
All of this means that Americans are becoming more and more likely to interact with someone with Down syndrome. More than 80 percent of adults with Down syndrome reach the age of 60, with many living much longer. That’s why it’s important that we become educated on this topic.
People with Down syndrome are even on the front lines of Alzheimer’s research.
People living with Down syndrome are the “largest population of individuals predisposed to getting Alzheimer’s disease,” and many are participating in studies to help find a cure. NPR reports, “Because their bodies produce extra amyloid, most people with Down syndrome develop problems with thinking and memory by the time they reach 60.”
Scientists are testing early Alzheimer’s therapy with patients who have Down syndrome, something that was previously not possible because it was impossible to tell who would develop Alzheimer’s. Because people with Down syndrome will inevitably develop these symptoms, treating them early could help crack the code to treatments that will help everyone.
One such pioneer, Frank Stephens, recently testified in front of Congress, saying, “I cannot tell you how much it means to me that my extra chromosome might lead to the answer to Alzheimer’s. It is likely that this thief will one day steal my memories, my very life from me. This is very hard for me to say, but it has already begun to steal my Mom from me. Please think about all those people you love the way I love my Mom. We are helping to defeat Cancer and Alzheimer’s. We make the world a happier place. Let’s make our goal to be Alzheimer’s free, not Down Syndrome free.”
It’s so important that we learn and understand those around us, including those with conditions or disabilities that have historically been seen as weaknesses. We all need to remember the value of each human life around us and the ways we can all help each other.
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