Down syndrome, also called Down's syndrome or Downs syndrome, is a genetic disorder that is characterized by distinct physical characteristics and varying degrees of cognitive dysfunction that range from mild to severe. Cognitive disabilities occur when a person has difficulty thinking, processing, and storing information in order to solve problems. Some individuals may live independently as adults, while others may require long-term care and support.
Even though Down syndrome is a genetic condition, it is not usually inherited from parents. Most cases occur spontaneously before or during conception. One of the biggest risk factors of Down syndrome is the mother's age when she conceives. Females who are 35 years and older are most likely to have abnormal eggs that may lead to Down syndrome. However, because most women have children before this age, it is not considered the leading cause of the disorder.
Researchers estimate that about 6,000 babies are born with Down syndrome each year in the United States. Gender, race, and ethnicity do not appear to play a role in the development of the disorder.
In 1929, many children born with Down syndrome did not live to be older than 10 years of age. This is because patients with Down syndrome have an increased risk of developing heart defects, leukemia, infectious diseases, and other potentially life-threatening conditions.
Today, however, patients can expect to live to be 50 years of age or older, depending on the severity of related health problems. Although there is no cure for Down syndrome, early treatment has been shown to increase patients' long-term prognoses. Early intervention and proper care has also been shown to help Down syndrome patients develop into independent adults.
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