Caring for Your Senior Mother or Father: Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis May Lower Dementia Risk

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues. It affects about 1.5 million people in the United States, making it one of the most common forms of arthritis. While it can cause pain and discomfort, there may now be another benefit to treating rheumatoid arthritis: lower dementia risk.

Results of Recent Study on Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lower Dementia Risk

A recent study published in the journal PLOS Medicine found that individuals with rheumatoid arthritis treated with disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, also known as DMARDs, had a significantly lower risk of developing dementia compared to those who did not receive treatment. The researchers used data from over 131,000 participants from Denmark’s national database. The researchers found that those taking DMARDs had a 44 percent lower risk of developing dementia over 10 years than those who did not take these medications.

Interestingly, this effect was even more pronounced for women. Women in the study taking DMARDs saw an almost 50 percent reduction in their risk for developing dementia compared to those not taking medication. Even after accounting for other factors, such as age and underlying conditions, the researchers still observed a significant reduction in dementia rates among those taking DMARDs for their rheumatoid arthritis.

The exact reasons why DMARDs may reduce one’s risk of developing dementia are still unclear, but researchers suggest several possible mechanisms. For instance, some studies have suggested that DMARDs may help reduce inflammation in the brain by altering certain proteins involved in inflammation processes or by reducing levels of inflammatory markers in the blood. Furthermore, DMARDS may protect against nerve damage caused by chronic inflammation or oxidative stress that can lead to cognitive decline and memory problems associated with dementia.

While further research is needed to confirm how effective DMARDs are at reducing one’s risk for developing dementia and what mechanisms may be involved in this process, this study does provide promising evidence that treatments for rheumatoid arthritis may be beneficial beyond just easing joint pain and discomfort. These findings could lead to better-personalized treatments for those with rheumatoid arthritis and even help prevent dementia from occurring down the line.

Harvard Medical School: More Research Is Needed

According to Harvard Medical School, while evidence is mounting that inflammation-suppressing medicines might reduce dementia risk, more research is needed:

  • Observational studies cannot prove the cause. These types of studies observe rates of dementia among different groups of people. This means other factors could account for the results. For example, the 2022 study didn’t assess smoking and family history, which contribute to dementia. If the group receiving older rheumatoid arthritis treatments had more risk factors for dementia, the medicines might not explain the findings. More powerful evidence comes from randomized controlled trials, in which otherwise similar people are randomly assigned to different treatment groups, and their health is analyzed over time.
  • Results might differ with different or more diverse groups of study participants. For example, participants in the 2022 study were older adults (average age 67), mostly white (75% percent), and mostly female (80 percent).
  • Independent research is necessary to confirm results. A single study from one group of researchers is rarely convincing, especially for an issue as important as preventing dementia.
  • Longer-term follow-up is needed. Rheumatoid arthritis is a lifelong disease, so studies lasting three to five years may not tell the whole story.
  • We’re not sure how certain medicines for RA might protect the brain. We also don’t know whether these treatments could be effective for people who don’t have rheumatoid arthritis.

Some Essential Facts About Rheumatoid Arthritis

As noted previously in this article, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints of the body and is a chronic inflammatory disorder. It occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks joint tissue, leading to swelling, pain, and stiffness in the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect any joint in the body. However, rheumatoid arthritis most commonly affects the hands, wrists, feet, elbows, and knees. In severe cases, it can cause deformity of the affected joints.

  • Approximately 1 percent of adults worldwide are affected by rheumatoid arthritis. Women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than men. However, anyone – regardless of gender – can be affected by this condition at any age. Early diagnosis and aggressive treatment are essential for minimizing any long-term damage to joints caused by rheumatoid arthritis and controlling symptoms, such as pain and inflammation.
  • Although there is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis, many effective treatments can reduce symptoms and slow down its progress. Treatments typically involve a combination of medication (such as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs or DMARDs), lifestyle changes (including exercise), physical therapy or occupational therapy, or surgery in some cases.
  • Besides joint pain and stiffness due to inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis, other symptoms may include fatigue, fever, weight loss or gain without explanation, eye irritation or dryness due to scleritis (inflammation of the white part of outer coverings of eyes), nodules under the skin (especially around elbows), weakness or numbness in hands or legs.
  • There are various risk factors associated with developing rheumatoid arthritis, such as a family history of autoimmunity or rheumatoid arthritis, smoking tobacco products over some time, and exposure to certain environmental toxins or chemicals such as silica dust. Genetic makeup also plays an important role in triggering this autoimmune disorder in certain people with certain gene variants, making them susceptible to developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Five Primary Signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis

The most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are joint pain, swelling, and stiffness that typically occur symmetrically on both sides of the body. With this in mind, the five more commonly experienced symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are:

  • Morning stiffness: Many people with rheumatoid arthritis experience morning stiffness lasting an hour or more. This type of stiffness is due to inflammation in the joints, which makes it difficult to move easily upon waking up.
  • Joint pain and swelling: Pain, swelling, stiffness, and redness around joints can all be symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. However, these symptoms will usually affect multiple joints at once on both sides of the body, such as wrists, knuckles, elbows, or knees.
  • Loss of mobility: Someone with rheumatoid arthritis may find limitations in mobility due to pain or swelling in their joints and fatigue from lack of sleep resulting from sleepless nights spent dealing with discomfort from rheumatoid arthritis-related issues.
  • Fatigue: People affected by rheumatoid arthritis can experience severe fatigue due to lack of sleep caused by joint discomfort and systemic inflammation throughout their body caused by the autoimmune disorder.
  • Rheumatoid nodules: These are firm lumps formed under the skin around certain joints, such as elbows, due to inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis that can often be painful when pressed upon or moved directly over them during daily activities like typing on a computer keyboard or holding a book while reading.

Once again, the jury is out on whether certain treatments for rheumatoid arthritis can lower the risk of dementia among some seniors. Research is ongoing, and there is hope that more definitive information will be available in the distant future.