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NSAIDs May Prevent Alzheimer's Disease, Study Finds

Kate Traynor

A large study conducted in the Netherlands found that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) other than aspirin may prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in older adults.1

The study, which examined computerized prescription records for nearly 7000 adults 55 years or older, found that two or more years of cumulative nonaspirin NSAID use decreased a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 80%. The protective effect of NSAIDs among these "long-term" users was evident regardless of whether a patient took one "defined daily dose" of an NSAID or more.

The research team said their findings support the hypothesis that the anti-inflammatory properties of nonaspirin NSAIDs may prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Any degree of NSAID use was deemed protective against Alzheimer’s disease, according to the research team. People who used an NSAID for a month or less decreased their risk of the disease by 5%, compared with nonusers. Study participants who used an NSAID for more than one month but less than 24 decreased their risk for Alzheimer’s disease by 17%.

NSAID use did not decrease the likelihood that a patient would be diagnosed with vascular dementia.

Data for this project came from the Rotterdam Study, which enrolled 7983 patients between 1990 and 1993 and followed the cohort through 1998. Patients whose records were used for this study showed no signs of dementia at baseline. A total of 293 patients were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and 56 with vascular dementia during the course of the study.

Prescription drug use by study participants was documented in computerized pharmacy records. The research team described these pharmacy records as "virtually complete sources of information on the delivery of drugs" including NSAIDs, which were available in the Netherlands only by prescription until 1995.

Of the NSAID users, 43% took diclofenac, 22% had taken ibuprofen, and 18% had used naproxen during the study period. Thirteen other nonaspirin NSAID products were also used during the project.

About half of the NSAID users took the medication to treat "joint symptoms," and one fourth used an NSAID to alleviate osteoarthritis symptoms.

The research team did not tie the reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease to the use of any particular NSAID.

One third of the study participants had used aspirin or another oral salicylate drug during the study period. In nearly all cases, the study participants took less than 300 mg per day of these drugs, a dosage that the research team described as too low to inhibit inflammation.

The use of aspirin or other oral salicylates neither increased nor decreased a patient’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease but did raise the risk for vascular dementia.

1. In 't Veld BA, Ruitenberg A, Hofman A et al. Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs and the risk of Alzheimer's disease. N Engl J Med. 2001; 345:1515-21.