Down syndrome is caused by the presence of an extra ‘21st’ chromosome. This results in some distinct facial features along with impaired growth and cognitive abilities, often seeming to resemble those of a young child. Individuals with down syndrome also have shorter life expectancies and are generally more susceptible to various illnesses and conditions such as sleep apnea, ear infection, heart defects and gastroesophageal reflux disease among others.
Due to the chromosomal nature of the condition, down syndrome is not a disease or a virus and is instead part of the genetic makeup of the individual. As such it cannot be ‘cured’. The genetic code and the chromosomes exist in every single cell of a living creatures and dictates how the body arranges itself as it grows and as it makes repairs to wounds etc. The only possible way that we might one day be able to tackle down syndrome is through genetic modification which has already been successfully tested on animals for other purposes. However due to the developmental deficits of down syndrome it is uncertain how much this would affect a fully-grown individual. At the same time altering the DNA of the individual could be seen by some philosophies as altering the very thing that makes a person who they are and so might not even be desirable if it were possible.
Rather than curing down syndrome then, treatment instead focuses on the management of the condition and attempts to improve the quality of life of both the down syndrome patient and their care givers.
In some cases plastic surgery is an option considered by many care givers as a way to create a more ‘normal’ look for their children with the aim of avoiding social stigma and thereby improving quality of life. At the same time some such surgical procedures can also benefit other areas of the individual’s health. For example by reducing the abnormally large tongue size found in most down syndrome patients it is possible to improve an individual’s ability to eat and to speak without impediment. This is again a controversial area however and some groups and individuals are strongly against the use of surgery as a management technique.
Meanwhile improvements in schooling can help to overcome some of the cognitive difficulties seen in the condition. Housing as well has been developed which is intended to keep the individuals safe and provided for thus giving the care givers some respite once their children reach adulthood. With such facilities there have been numerous examples of down syndrome individuals who have gone on to become best selling authors and successful (even BAFTA award-winning in on case) actors.