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Wayne Silverman, Ph.D.
Kennedy Krieger Institute
707 N. Broadway
Baltimore, MD 21205
Phone: (443) 923-2738
Dr. Wayne Silverman is a research scientist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. He also is a member of the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Dr. Silverman attended the State University of New York at Buffalo, receiving his bachelor's of arts in psychology in 1969 and doctoral degree in 1973. He then spent the next 33 years as a scientist in the Department of Psychology of the New York Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities, serving as department chief from 1987 until he came to the Kennedy Krieger Institute (KKI) in 2006. Dr. Silverman is directing a large study of aging among adults with Down syndrome that is funded by the National Institutes of Health. This program involves collaborations among investigators at KKI, the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Dr. Silverman is the past president of the Academy on Mental Retardation, a past president of the American Psychological Association's Division on Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities and a member of the board of directors of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. He has served on the National Research Council Committee on Disability Determination for Mental Retardation, and is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and the International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual Disabilities.
Dr. Silverman and his colleagues have been studying psychological and biomedical aspects of aging among adults with Down syndrome for over 20 years. Originally, this program focused on all older adults having life-long intellectual impairments, but priorities narrowed when it became clear that aging processes in the absence of Down syndrome were, in most critical respects, comparable to those operating in the general population. In contrast, Down syndrome is associated with many aspects of atypical aging, including a shorter life expectancy and an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. There is a compelling need to understand why. Genetics must play a key role because Down syndrome results from the presence of three complete (or more rarely partial) copies of chromosome 21, rather than the expected two. This program involves collaborations among geneticists, psychologists, neuropathologists, neurologists, epidemiologists and biostatisticians.
One important goal is to determine the age-associated health concerns unique to the population with Down syndrome. In previous generations, very few affected people lived to be old enough to experience "old age," but the benefits of modern medicine and every day hygiene practices have increased life expectancy dramatically. With these benefits, however, have come new concerns, and findings thus far show that adults with Down syndrome are more vulnerable to age-associated thyroid dysfunction, vision and hearing impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease. However, they seem to be less vulnerable to stroke and solid tumor cancers.
Given the increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease, it is important to be able to recognize the early signs and symptoms of the resulting dementia, which slowly progresses from relatively subtle changes in memory and cognition to complete dependence in even the simplest every-day activities. Adults with Down syndrome have pre-existing intellectual impairments that make "standard" procedures for diagnosing early dementia uninterpretable in most cases, and methods appropriate for use with these individuals are being developed.
Another focus of this research emphasizes individual differences. Some adults with Down syndrome are far less vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease than others, aging successfully well into their 60s or early 70s. However, others develop dementia in their late 40s or early 50s. Once the causes of these differences are determined, it may be possible to support successful aging more effectively.
Dr. Silverman is also involved in several smaller projects investigating basic processes underlying individual differences in abilities and behavior. Exciting advances are occurring in the fields of cognition, cognitive neuroscience and developmental molecular biology, and the Kennedy Krieger Institute provides unique opportunities for future collaborations.