Lithium linked with reduced dementia risk

18 March 2022

Researchers have found that lithium use is linked with a reduced risk of developing dementia. The scientific publication, PLOS Medicine, published the results today (Thursday 17 March). Lithium is sometimes prescribed as a treatment for mood disorders.

What did the researchers do?

In this research, scientists looked back at medical records from nearly 30,000 UK volunteers including 548 people exposed to lithium, the majority of whom received it as a treatment for bipolar disorder.

What did the scientists find?

In those exposed to lithium, 9.7% of patients were also subsequently diagnosed with dementia. In those that weren’t exposed to lithium, 11.2% of people went on to develop dementia.

Lithium conferred this beneficial effect even when people were exposed to it for less than one year.

What did our expert say?

Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research from Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Dementia is caused by different diseases that get worse over time. Researchers are working hard to understand these diseases and uncover new potential treatments to prevent a decline in people’s symptoms.

“The results of this study suggest that people prescribed lithium were less likely to develop dementia.  The researchers analysed data from users of mental health services, and only a small number of participants were taking lithium. While we need to be careful before we generalise the findings to the wider population, the results do highlight the possible link between the two and further work is ongoing.

“Alzheimer’s Research UK are now funding science at the University of Newcastle to see whether lithium could be a future treatment for Alzheimer’s disease using a new brain imaging technique. This project will help lay the groundwork for careful clinical trials, which are ultimately the only way to know if lithium could be an effective treatment for people with Alzheimer’s.

“There is a desperate need for new dementia treatments and where there is evidence that an existing, widely used, relatively safe and inexpensive drug could help, it is vital that researchers follow up on this as quickly as possible.”

You can read the full paper ‘Association between lithium use and the incidence of dementia and its subtypes: A retrospective cohort study’ in PLOS Medicine.

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