New research on medicine says certain drugs known as anticholinergics may be linked to dementia.
Such medicines include certain antidepressants, bipolar medications, antispasmodics taken for bladder control, as well as some Parkinson’s drugs. These drugs block a specific neurotransmitter called acetylcholine in the central and peripheral nervous systems.
Professor Chris Cox, a researcher at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, and one of the authors of the new report said they analyzed people who developed dementia and people who didn’t develop dementia.
The study is thus by far the largest, most detailed one of its kind. Researchers went over 300,000 medical records with a staggering million of prescriptions, before doing a modern statistical analysis.
The British team discovered that long-term use of such drugs is linked to dementia, even when medications are taken up to 20 years before a diagnosis.
The drugs include antidepressants such as Paxil and Elavil and medications used for bipolar disorder including Zyprexa and Seroquel.
Professor Cox said: “So our studies for the first time had indicated a strong association between taking certain anticholinergic drugs and the risk of getting dementia.”
The study also discovered an associated risk with medications used for bladder conditions, as well as Parkinson’s disease.
Dr. Barbara Sommer, a geriatric psychiatrist at Standford Medical Center and expert in anticholinergic medication, however, cautioned that the research while important is “not conclusive.” She also warned that the study does not prove such drugs cause dementia.
Still, Sommer said that people taking medication, over-the-counter drugs, even supplements, should reassess if they really need such drugs in the first place. She advised: “You have to measure the risk and the benefit of any medication that you take.”
Sommer added: “Take them to your doctors and go over each medication one by one asking how anticholinergic it is, if at all.”
Around 50 million people in the world are living with dementia, and it’s predicted to even increase around the world to 132 million by 2050.
Doctors and public health experts say that counties affected by the disease must develop preventive health policies to reduce the neurodegenerative condition. One strategy to carry this out is to exchange certain medication or have doctors think twice before prescribing anticholinergics.
Sommer also said that while the new research discovered no risk with popular over-the-counter antihistamines and sleep aids, they’re not entirely off the hook yet. That is because previous research shows compelling evidence the long-term use of such drugs may be problematic.
Diphenhydramine is the active ingredient found in Benadryl and other over-the-counter sleep aids. Sommer explained that’s because diphenhydramine gets into the brain and sit there for a little while. Sommer recommends taking another medication if possible.