Lithium Slows Development of Alzheimer's


"Study shows the rate of decline among patients on lithium was significantly less."

A trial of 41 people over 60 years of age with mild cognitive impairment, a condition that often leads to full-blown Alzheimer's, found that the rate of mental decline was lower in the half given 150mg of lithium daily, compared to those given a placebo.

While all participants showed a decline in memory function and attention tasks over the year, the rate of decline among those on lithium was significantly less. Levels of a biomarker for Alzheimer's disease called phospho-tau concentrations also rose more slowly in those on lithium.

Psychiatrists believe this is because it "may hamper mechanisms that lead to the formation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles", microscopic brain structures linked to the most common form of dementia.

Dr Orestes Forlenza, who led the research, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, said: "This study supports the idea that giving lithium to a person who is at risk of Alzheimer's disease may have a protective effect, and slow down the progression of memory loss to dementia."

Professor Allan Young, a psychiatrist from Imperial College London, described the study as "encouraging"—and particularly interesting because no pharmaceutical company has a patent on lithium, meaning it is very cheap to prescribe.

Dr Anne Corbett, research manager at the Alzheimer's Society, said: "We need more, larger clinical trials to test existing drugs like lithium if we are to find better treatments for people with Alzheimer's.

"Yet such trials are very expensive. We need greater investment in this area in order to help us develop better treatments for people with this devastating condition."

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