Dr. Wayne Silverman is the director of Intellectual Disabilities Research in the Department of Behavioral Psychology, at Kennedy Krieger Institute. He is the co-director of the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC). He also is a professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Dr. Silverman attended the State University of New York at Buffalo, receiving his B.A. in Psychology in 1969 and Ph.D. 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, Johns Hopkins University, the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Dr. Silverman is a past President of The Academy on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities as well as the American Psychological Association’s Division on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. He was also a member of the Board of Directors of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and served on the National Research Council Committee on Disability Determination for Mental Retardation. He 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 60’s or early 70’s. However, others develop dementia in their late 40’s or early 50’s. 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.
Jenkins EC, Marchi EJ, Velinov MT, Ye L, Krinsky-McHale SJ, Zigman WB, Schupf N, Silverman WP (2017). Longitudinal telomere shortening and early Alzheimer's disease progression in adults with down syndrome. Am J Med Genet B Neuropsychiatr Genet. 174(8), 772-778.
Shirley MD, Frelin L, López JS, Jedlicka A, Dziedzic A, Frank-Crawford MA, Silverman W, Hagopian L, Pevsner J (2016). Copy Number Variants Associated with 14 Cases of Self-Injurious Behavior. PLoS One. 11(3), e0149646.
Walsh DM, Doran E, Silverman W, Tournay A, Movsesyan N, Lott IT (2015). Rapid assessment of cognitive function in down syndrome across intellectual level and dementia status. J Intellect Disabil Res. 59(11), 1071-9.
Mendioroz M, Do C, Jiang X, Liu C, Darbary HK, Lang CF, Lin J, Thomas A, Abu-Amero S, Stanier P, Temkin A, Yale A, Liu MM, Li Y, Salas M, Kerkel K, Capone G, Silverman W, Yu YE, Moore G, Wegiel J, Tycko B (2015). Trans effects of chromosome aneuploidies on DNA methylation patterns in human Down syndrome and mouse models. Genome Biol. 16, 263.