A new study in the United Kingdom is offering hope for dementia sufferers around the world.
The research was conducted by Cambridge University using 30,000 mental health patients, and it suggests that a drug commonly prescribed to those with mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder, may have unexpected benefits for those suffering from dementia.
Dementia is an umbrella term, and it refers to a range of progressive neurological disorders of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most prevalent. These disorders affect memory, thinking, and behavior, and it’s estimated there are about 5.8 million in the U.S. with Alzheimer’s and related forms of dementia. The pressing need to mitigate or cure this cruel disease has drawn greater attention recently, with urgent questions about President Biden’s mental state attracting renewed focus to the widespread epidemic. The possibility, however remote, of a cure for dementia is welcome news to many Americans.
For the time being, there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s. The new study, however, finds that lithium, a common mood-stabilizing drug, may reduce the risk of developing dementia by a significant amount, Daily Mail reported.
The benefits of lithium for mental health have been recognized for some time. The element appears naturally in such things as grains and vegetables, and it can even be found in low concentrations in the water supply. And the salutary effects of lithium in treating various mood disorders, including depression and manic disorders, has been known for many years.
This most recent finding follows in the wake of a long train of scientific research suggesting that lithium may have an important role to play in fighting the worst effects of dementia. In the present Cambridge University study, researchers accessed the medical records of 29,618 patients, all of them over fifty, who used mental health services at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust in the United Kingdom, according to Daily Mail.
None of the patients showed any signs of dementia or cognitive impairment at the commencement of the study period. A total of 550 of these patients were prescribed lithium, which allowed the researchers to study a sufficient enough sample to determine whether the drug had any effect on lowering the risk of dementia. The results, which were published in the journal PLOS Medicine, showed that only 9.7% of the patients who were prescribed lithium got dementia, compared to 11.2% in the group that didn’t receive the drug.
The researchers were surprised by the findings since those with bipolar disorder are statistically more likely to suffer from dementia.
“It’s far too early to say for sure,” observed the study’s lead author, Dr. Shanquan Chen, “but it’s possible that lithium might reduce the risk of dementia in people with bipolar disorder.”
It’s not known what protective mechanism lithium might employ to defend against the onset of dementia. Researchers speculate that it could suppress certain enzymes suspected of producing toxic proteins in the brains of dementia sufferers. These proteins are thought to build up and eventually trigger the destruction of brain cells.
For now, the findings are tentative but hopeful. Only doctors can prescribe lithium, as the dosage must be tailored to each patient and can lead to dangerous side effects if too much is taken.
But if this study is vindicated by follow-up research, it could represent a promising treatment for this terrible disorder—which is welcome news to its many victims and their loved ones.
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