October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, where we celebrate the achievements of people with Down Syndrome. This annual event is also used to raise funds for Down Syndrome research and to share information to raise awareness about the condition with the general public.
Hundreds of events are held around the world to celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month including fundraising events, the Buddy Walk®, awareness seminars, and meet-ups for the carers of people with Down Syndrome.
Fact #1 — Down Syndrome is the world’s most common chromosomal condition
Down Syndrome is the world’s most common chromosomal condition. Chromosomal conditions occur when part or all of a chromosome is missing, rearranged or duplicated. People with Down Syndrome are born with 47 chromosomes rather than 46. They have an additional copy of chromosome 21, which is the smallest human chromosome.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 1,100 children are born with Down Syndrome worldwide. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that Down Syndrome occurs in 1 in 691 births in the United States.
Fact #2 — The risk of women having a baby with Down Syndrome increases as they age
The risk of a woman having a baby with Down Syndrome increases as she gets older. This occurs because older eggs have a greater risk of improper chromosome division. Women under 25 have about a one in 1400 chance of having a baby with Down Syndrome, which increases to one in 100 by age 40.
Fact #3 — Down Syndrome can be discovered before birth
There are some prenatal diagnostic tests available for Down Syndrome — NIPT (non-invasive prenatal test), amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling. There are also screening tests available, which carry fewer risks but are less accurate such as the nuchal translucency ultrasound scan.
Fact #4 — Down Syndrome has a wide variety of symptoms
The most common symptoms of Down Syndrome include distinctive facial appearance, development delays, and intellectual disabilities. Other physical symptoms include flaccid muscles, immune deficiency, low-set ears, thyroid disease, small stature, upward slant to the eyes, vision disorders, hearing loss, and obesity.
Fact #5 — Down Syndrome can affect anyone
Down Syndrome can affect people of both genders and all races. However, African American babies born with the condition have lower survival rates than other babies. Researchers haven’t figured out yet why this is the case.
Fact #6 — Many types of therapies are used to treat Down Syndrome
While Down Syndrome currently has no cure, early intervention therapies can make a huge difference to a sufferer’s way of life. The most common therapies used to treat Down Syndrome include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and developmental therapy.
Fact #7 — Memory loss is common in older people with Down Syndrome
The treatments available for the health problems associated with Down Syndrome have become much more advanced in recent years. This has resulted in people with Down Syndrome living a longer and healthier life.
Unfortunately, it is quite common for older people with Down Syndrome to experience memory loss or degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. The National Institute on Aging suggests that half of the people with Down Syndrome will develop Alzheimer’s disease in their lifetime.
The likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease is increased in people with Down Syndrome because the extra copy of chromosome 21 produces additional amyloid precursor protein (APP). Having too much APP leads to clumps of protein building up in the brain, which cause Alzheimer’s disease.
Fact #8 — People with Down Syndrome have a great risk of certain illnesses
In addition to having a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease, people with Down Syndrome are more likely to have congenital heart defects and sleep disorders. There is also some evidence to indicate that they have a higher risk of autism, childhood leukaemia, seizures, and celiac disease.
Fact #9 — Life expectancy for people with Down Syndrome has increased
The life expectancy for individuals with Down Syndrome has increased from 25 years in 1983 to 60 years today. This huge increase in life expectancy is mostly attributed to ending the practice of institutionalising people with Down Syndrome.
Fact #10 — People with Down Syndrome can lead rich, full lives
The cognitive delays experienced by Down Syndrome are usually mild or moderate, which means people with the condition can lead very enjoyable and exciting lives. They can attend school, make friends, develop hobbies, and enjoy many of the activities that others enjoy.