Arthritis drugs could work as dementia preventer

brain scan
Researchers are working towards a cure for dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Source: Shutterstock

Medication commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis could help reduce the risk of dementia by up to 50 per cent, new research has found.

Rheumatoid arthritis is usually treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, which help reduce flare-ups and pain associated with the condition. Researchers analysed the effects of the drugs against patients’ risk of developing dementia and found promising results.

Inflammation is a known risk-factor for dementia, prompting medial experts from the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre to investigate whether anti-inflammatory drugs, namely disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), particularly methotrexate, could help reduce the risk of developing the condition.

The researchers analysed anonymous data collected from the patient records of over 5,800 people living with rheumatoid arthritis across the UK. They compared 3,876 patients who took DMARDs against 1,938 patients who didn’t take the drugs, and found that those on the anti-inflammatory rheumatoid arthritis medication had approximately half the risk of developing dementia.

Their results were published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research and Clinical Interventions.

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“Although there is medication available that can temporarily reduce some symptoms or slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, there is currently no cure for the condition,” explained Professor Chris Edwards, who’s also a consultant rheumatologist at Southampton General Hospital.

“This study shows a positive link between patients taking drugs to treat arthritis and reducing their risk of developing dementia – potentially by up to 50%. The results we’ve seen make us optimistic that we are getting closer to better treating this neurological disease.”

Unlike other forms of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune condition that causes the body’s immune system to mistakingly target its own cells. This causes the lining of the joints to become inflamed, leading to swelling and pain in affected areas.

About 3 million Australians are living with rheumatoid arthritis. There is no cure for the condition, but symptoms can be managed with medication.

Researchers have previously looked at other medications to asses their ability to reduce the risk of dementia. Last year a medical team from Sweden found blood-thinners cut the risk of dementia by 48 per cent.

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About  75 million people around the world are expected to be living with Dementia by the year 2030, prompting many of the major pharmaceutical companies to pour millions into finding a cure. The effort has been fraught with difficulty and disappointment in many cases.

In January pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced it had terminated its research program into the hunt for an Alzheimer’s after losing millions on failed drug trials. They also ditched their research on Parkinson’s Disease but said they were committed to research into drugs for other rare neurological diseases.

The team from the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre say more research is needed to establish how effective anti-inflammatory medication can be in the fight against the dementia. 

Do you think they’ll ever find a cure for dementia? Do you know anyone affected by the disease?