Adults with autism are more than twice likely to be diagnosed with dementia

October 11, 2021

2 minutes to read

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Adults with autism spectrum disorders were about 2.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with dementia early on than adults in the general population, according to a case-control study published in Autism research.

“Currently, there is a lack of knowledge about the co-occurrence of autism and dementia, leading to inadequate service delivery and a poor understanding of the social and economic implications for those affected, their care partners. and society, leaving decision-makers without an evidence base. to formulate policies and programs ”, Giacomo Vivanti, PhD, associate professor at the AJ Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University in Philadelphia, told Healio Primary Care.

Reference: Vivanti G, et al. Autism Res. 2021; doi: 10.1002 / aur.2590.

“Understanding the co-occurrence of autism with dementia precocious could provide insight into the nature, mechanisms and treatment of each condition, as was the case with Down syndrome,” he said.

Giacomo Vivanti

Vivanti and colleagues analyzed data from Medicaid Analytic eXtract files from 2008 to 2012. The study included adults with ASD only (n = 12,648), ASD, and other intellectual disability (n = 26,168) , intellectual disability without ASD (n = 406,570) and neither ASD nor intellectual disability (n = 798,828). The mean age at diagnosis of dementia was 49.35 years for those with ASD only, 47.51 years for those with ASD and concurrent intellectual disability, 51.66 for those with only intellectual disability and 53.77 years for those who had neither ASD nor simultaneous intellectual disability.

Researchers reported that the 5-year prevalence of dementia was 4.04% among adults who only had ASD and 5.22% for those with ASD and other intellectual disabilities. The prevalence of dementia was lowest among people without an ASD and no intellectual disability (0.97%), and highest among people with only an intellectual disability (7.1%).

Risk factors related to the increased prevalence of dementia in the general population were also associated with the increased risk of dementia in people with ASD, according to the researchers. Even after controlling for these risk factors, dementia was more common in adults with ASD (adjusted HR = 1.96; 95% CI, 1.69-2.28) and adults with ASD and other intellectual disability (aHR = 2.89; 95% CI, 2.62 –3.17).

Vivanti admitted he was surprised by the results.

“A theory in the field postulates that autism [is] a protective factor against dementia, due to the fact that people with ASD have larger brain volume and increased white matter connections, which could provide additional cognitive reserve – protecting against the impact of aging and / or dementia, ”he said. . “Our data did not support this notion.”

Vivanti recommended that healthcare professionals assess “people with autism showing signs of cognitive decline” for potential dementia, adding that there are “currently no diagnostic or intervention protocols for co-occurrence of autism. and dementia ”.

He also encouraged healthcare professionals who may need help caring for adults with autism to visit the Drexel Autism Institute’s Life Course Outcomes program website.

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