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A Systematic Review of Unexplained Early Regression in Adolescents and Adults with Down Syndrome.

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Walpert, Madeleine 


A proportion of young people with Down syndrome (DS) experience unexplained regression that severely impacts on their daily lives. While this condition has been recognised by clinicians, there is a limited understanding of causation and an inconsistent approach to diagnosis and treatment. Varied symptomology and little knowledge of the cause of this regression have impacted on clinician's ability to prevent or manage this condition. The purpose of this review was to examine the current evidence surrounding unexplained regression in adolescents and young adults, and to establish patterns that may be of use to clinicians, as well as raising awareness of this condition. Four areas were specifically reviewed, (1) terminology used to refer to this condition, (2) the symptoms reported, (3) potential trigger events and, (4) treatments and prognosis. A variety of terminology is used for this condition, which has constrained past attempts to identify patterns. An extensive number of symptoms were reported, however sleep impairment, loss of language and distinct changes in personality and behaviour, such as disinterest and withdrawal, were among the most frequently seen. Life events that were tentatively associated with the onset of a regressive period included a significant change in environmental circumstances or a transition, such as moving home or leaving school. Prognosis for this condition is relatively positive with the majority of individuals making at least a partial recovery. However, few patients were found to make a full recovery to their previous level of functioning and serious adverse effects could persist in those who have made a partial recovery. This is an under-researched condition with significant impacts on people with DS and their families. There are no established treatments for this condition and there is relatively little recognition in the research community. Further studies that focus on the prevention and treatment of this condition with controlled treatment trials are needed.



Down syndrome, early regression, idiopathic regression

Journal Title

Brain Sci

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Medical Research Council (G1002252)