Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Lithium may reduce risk of dementia

In Brief

Lithium may reduce risk of dementia

Although bipolar disorder is often characterized by its roller-coaster effects on mood, one of its long-term consequences is an increased likelihood of developing dementia. It's not clear why, but one theory is that repeated episodes of mania may damage the brain. Now a large study suggests that continued lithium therapy may offer a brain-protective effect.

Researchers at the University Hospital of Copenhagen examined national medical and prescription records from 1995 to 2005. They compared the rate of dementia diagnoses in 16,238 patients who filled a lithium prescription at least once with that in a random sample of nearly 1.5 million people in the general population who never took lithium.

Patients who filled a lithium prescription only once had a 47% greater risk of being diagnosed with dementia later on when compared with people who never took lithium. But among patients who continued to take lithium (as indicated by prescription refills), risk of dementia dropped quickly to a level closer to that in the general population.

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