When you think of Down syndrome, you may think of children and young adults with the condition, but those children grow older. Aging with Down syndrome comes with its own challenges and life expectancy, so it’s important to know what you can expect as your loved one ages.
What Is Down Syndrome?
All your cells in your body have a nucleus. This nucleus is where your genetic material is stored in what are called genes. These genes determine all your inherited traits. The genes are grouped together in what is called chromosomes.
There are normally 23 pairs of chromosomes in each nucleus. For those with Down syndrome, there is a partial or even full extra copy of the 21st chromosome. This is what causes the condition.
Down Syndrome Life Expectancy
One question many people have is how long do people with Down syndrome live? With this diagnosis comes several common health issues. About 40% of those with down syndrome will have congenital heart defects. In addition, these individuals will have a higher rate of respiratory issues and infections.
Even with these challenges, however, the life expectancy of someone with down syndrome is 60 years old with some living into their later 60s and 70s.
Down Syndrome Care Plan
Caring for someone with down syndrome, especially elderly Down syndrome patients, comes with some challenges. One major challenge is Alzheimer’s. Studies show that up to 75% of those with Down syndrome over the age of 60 will also have Alzheimer’s. Research hasn’t yet determined why so many in this population also have this secondary condition, but it does mean that caregivers will need to understand both conditions to properly care for a loved one.
This has become a larger issue as more individuals with Down syndrome are living longer. In fact, the average life expectancy for someone with this condition in 1983 was 25 years of age compared to 60 years of age in 2018. Social services have not kept up with the new reality of patients having both Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s, and they are now scrambling to provide much needed services. That’s why it is so important to have a care plan in place.
Often, it can be difficult for someone with Down syndrome to receive the same medical care as those without the condition. This is especially true as they age. This makes the role of caregiver so much more important. As someone in that role, you’ll need to be an advocate for their health care.
This means watching for signs of disease such as:
- Heart problems
- Breathing issues
- Alzheimer’s and dementia
- Changes in behavior
- Signs of abuse
In addition, you’ll want to work with your loved one’s primary care physician to ensure they are being monitored for all these conditions and that treatment plans are in place.
The good news for those with Down syndrome is that life expectancy is increasing by leaps and bounds. The bad news is that social services and the medical community are lagging. That’s why it is so important that, as a caregiver, you speak up when you think there may be an issue. With your help, your loved one will not only live longer, they’ll have a better quality of life.