Friday, August 27, 2010

University of Arizona develops cognitive tests for Down syndrome

Whenever I see the words "Down syndrome testing" in my daily Down syndrome Google alerts, my stomach tightens. Usualy, it means a new effort has been made improve the 'search and destroy' techniques for abortion. Not this time. Researchers at the Universtiy of Arizona have developed a very quick, efficient cognitve test for people with Down syndrome.
I have often lamented to my child's teacher the lack of growth charts, and test standards for children with Down syndrome. I can find out how Christina does in relation to her typical peers, but I want to know how she ranks among her peers with Trisomy 21.
Now research which includes brain scans of the principle areas of the brain which are affected by the third copy of the 21st chromosome are used to assess not only cognitive abilities, but a trajectory of development and sadly, the course of dementia which often affects adults with Down syndome.Down syndrome primarily affects three major parts of the brain: the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and cerebellum. Neuroimaging, primarily MRI and PT scanning, was a key part of Edgin and Nadel's research. Images show that individuals performing certain tasks engage one or more of those three parts of the brain. Researchers also know that when certain parts of the brain have been damaged that particular tasks can or cannot be performed.

"The point is that these tasks in the test battery have been selected because they really hone in on the particular functions of the brain regions," Nadel said. "What's equally important is that not only do they hone in on a particular brain region, but they also don't particularly depend on other brain regions. They're selective."
Those with Down syndrome run a broad range of outcomes, from mild to severe cognitive impairment depending on development in the three brain regions that are at risk. The hope is that the test battery is a way to figure out, for any given child, where they fit developmentally within each of these particular domains. And because Down syndrome is caused by an extra chromosome with many genes involved, there is considerable variability in the outcome for a given child.
"You might have a kid who is weak in one area but strong in another," Nadel said. "The profile is going to vary from person to person. The battery will give us a handle on understanding that profile so you might be able to target an intervention in a specific way for a given person. It also would allow as early as possible to understand the likely trajectory for any given child, and what might be the most appropriate forms of intervention."
This is very good news, as it is meant to help us educate our children, not eliminate them, and I will be volunteering to participate in this study. I have done so for many other universities, in order to ensure they have a good sample of subjects for their study. I am most interested in how I can help Christina's improve her speech.

The Down Syndrome Research Group is recruiting children and adults with Down syndrome from age 7 to late adulthood. More information on this and other DSRG studies is available at 520-626-0244 or by e-mail at
Read the entire article here.

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