On World Alzheimer’s Day, the aim is to raise awareness about this incurable neurodegenerative disease that primarily affects elderly individuals. However, this year, Hospital de Sant Pau has shifted its attention to a particularly vulnerable group: individuals with Down syndrome.
Alzheimer’s is characterized by cognitive decline and behavioral disturbances, with recent memory loss being one of its most prominent symptoms. In the case of individuals with Down syndrome, it is estimated that over 90% of this population will develop Alzheimer’s from the age of 40 onwards, becoming the leading cause of death in this group.
Diagnosing Alzheimer’s in individuals with Down syndrome is challenging due to intellectual disabilities and the lack of appropriate assessment tools. For this reason, in 2014, the Alzheimer-Down Unit at Sant Pau was officially established in collaboration with the Catalan Down Syndrome Foundation.
This unit offers a comprehensive Health Plan unique in the world, throughout the lives of individuals with Alzheimer’s and Down syndrome. The multidisciplinary team includes neurologists, neuropsychologists, and social workers, having attended to over 1,000 patients to date.
The most noteworthy aspect of this initiative is its human-centered approach, providing support and assistance to families and caregivers of patients who are profoundly affected emotionally by the disease. Additionally, the unit facilitates participation in the “Down Alzheimer Barcelona Neuroimaging Initiative” (DABNI) research project, which aims to better understand Alzheimer’s mechanisms in individuals with Down syndrome through the study of biomarkers.
In a significant development, the world’s first pharmacological trial in patients with Down syndrome is currently underway, involving a vaccine designed to reduce the accumulation of amyloid protein in the brain and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.