Common Prescription Drugs Used By Seniors May Increase Risk of Dementia

By Victoria Kim 02/04/15

A cumulative dose of over-the-counter sleep aids over time could potentially increase the risk of dementia.

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People over 65 may be increasing their risk of dementia by taking over-the-counter sleep aids and other commonly used drugs.

In a study published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers looked at drugs that have anticholinergic effects, which covers a range of drugs including tricyclic antidepressants such as doxepin, antihistamines like Chlor-Trimeton (chlorpheniramine) and drugs like Detrol (oxybutynin) used to treat overactive bladder. As much as 37% of people over age 65 use anticholinergic medications, the researchers noted.

After studying 3,434 people over age 65 who were free from dementia at the start of the study, the researchers found that the higher a patient’s cumulative dose of anticholinergic medication over the 10 years before entering the study, the greater his or her risk of dementia.

According to the study, people who took 10 milligrams of doxepin daily for a total of three years would be at increased risk of dementia. For people who take four milligrams of chlorpheniramine daily or five milligrams of oxybutynin daily, the same is true.

Though it was “known for some time that even single doses of these medications can cause impairment of cognition, slower reaction time, [and] reduced attention and ability to concentrate,” according to study author and a pharmacy professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, Shelly Gray. The thinking “was that these cognitive effects were reversible when you stopped taking the medication.”

However, the study found a link between heavier use of these medications and dementia, a nonreversible, severe form of cognitive impairment.

But researchers Noll Campbell and Malaz Boustani, of the Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis and the Indiana University Center for Aging Research argue that these medications have shown a stronger association with the diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, which may be reversible, than with dementia in previous studies.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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