Alzheimer-Down Unit

Down - Alzheimer - Sant Pau Barcelona

In collaboration with Fundació Catalana Síndrome de Down

Life expectancy in people with Down syndrome has increased significantly over the last few decades, currently reaching an average of 65 years of age. This tremendous success has unfortunately led to the emergence of new aging-related medical issues, particularly Alzheimer’s disease, in this population. Down syndrome can be considered a genetically-determined expression of Alzheimer’s disease due to the possession of an extra gene encoding the amyloid precursor protein (APP) located on chromosome 21. As such, while not all people with Down syndrome will develop dementia, all present with neuropathological signs of Alzheimer’s disease by the age of 40. Upwards of 40, the prevalence of dementia in this population increases exponentially, reaching 80% in individuals aged 60 or over. For this reason, Alzheimer’s disease in adults with Down syndrome has become a major challenge for the medical profession.

Alzheimer-Down Unit - Sant Pau Memory Unit - Barcelona
FCSD. Foto Quim Roser

With this in mind, the Alzheimer-Down Unit, the first of its kind in the world, was formed in 2014 with the specific purpose of the detection and assessment of Alzheimer’s disease in adults with Down syndrome by medical professionals specialized in dementia, and it is formed by neurologists, neuropsychologists and social workers. This multidisciplinary Unit has been recognized by the Catalan government as the reference hospital in Catalonia for the assessment of neurological pathology associated with Down syndrome.

In addition, a comprehensive biomarker study entitled the “Down Alzheimer Barcelona Neuroimaging Initiative” (DABNI) project is currently underway that comprises magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography, lumbar puncture, blood and genetic analyses, as well as sleep studies using polysomnography. The aim of the DABNI project is to improve our understanding of the mechanisms that drive Alzheimer’s disease in Down syndrome.