These Common Over-the-Counter Medications Could Increase Dementia Risk

By Valerie Tejeda 04/20/16

Older people taking certain anticholinergic drugs showed reduced brain volume and performed worse on cognitive tests.

These Common Over-the-Counter Medications Could Increase Dementia Risk
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Many over-the-counter medications are commonly prescribed by doctors to help with insomnia, allergies, and other bothersome ailments. But what many of us don’t consider is that even OTC medications come with risks and side effects. 

A new study found that the use of anticholinergic drugs can lead to an increased risk of dementia and cognitive impairment in older people. While this has been a concern in the medical community for quite some time, this is the first study to provide the most definitive proof so far. 

What are anticholinergic drugs exactly? Well, the list is pretty extensive. But some medications that may ring a bell are: Benadryl, Dramamine, and Dimetapp. Also on the list of drugs that could possibly be considered anticholinergic are Zyrtec, Claritin, Immodium and Zantac, medications that many people use every day. 

"These findings provide us with a much better understanding of how this class of drugs may act upon the brain in ways that might raise the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia," Shannon Risacher, assistant professor of radiology and imaging sciences, told CNN.

The study, from the Indiana University School of Medicine, is the first to use brain scans to examine the physical changes that lead to cognitive decline from taking these drugs. Researchers followed 451 people whose average age was 73. Sixty people participating in the study were taking at least one drug that was medium or high on the anticholinergic scale. 

The results showed that those taking the anticholinergic drugs performed worse on short-term memory tests and also performed worse on tests of problem-solving, verbal reasoning and planning. In addition, those taking the medications were found to have reduced brain volume and larger ventricles as well as lower levels of glucose metabolism, a biomarker for brain activity in the region of the brain that is affected by Alzheimer’s disease. 

"These findings might give us clues to the biological basis for the cognitive problems associated with anticholinergic drugs, but additional studies are needed if we are to truly understand the mechanisms involved," said Risacher. "Given all the research evidence, physicians might want to consider alternatives to anticholinergic medications, if available, when working with their older patients.”

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Entertainment journalist and author Valerie Tejeda spends her days reporting on books, television, and all things pertaining to pop culture, and spends her nights writing novels for teens. Her stories have appeared on a variety of different publications, including but not limited to: VanityFair, MTV, The Huffington Post, TeenVogue, She Knows, Latina, The Fix,, Cosmopolitan, and more. You can find Valerie on Linkedin and Twitter.