If you take over-the-counter drugs for allergies, prescription drugs to reduce pain or to treat incontinence or depression you need to read this article.
Older people are more susceptible to drug-induced dementia for several reasons.
- Older patients are often given multiple drugs simultaneously. Sometimes these drugs interact and side effects become more prominent.
- As we age, the liver and kidneys aren’t able to clear toxins and drugs as efficiently. Consequently, the drugs and their by-products accumulate in the body.
- Some researchers believe that the brain’s neurotransmitters become imbalanced as we age. This increases the brain’s sensitivity to drugs.
Which drugs have been shown to affect cognitive function?
Anticholinergic drugs affect the brain by blocking acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter. Low levels of acetylcholine have long been implicated in pateints with dementia.
A 2013 study reported that drugs with strong anticholinergic effects were associated with a clinical diagnosis of cognitive impairment when taken continuously for as few as 60 days over a one-year period. A similar impact was seen with 90 days of continuous use over a year when taking multiple drugs with weak anticholinergic effect.
Common over-the-counter drugs that have anticolinergic activity include: Benadryl, Dramamine, Excedrin PM, Nytol, Sominex, Tylenol PM, and Unisom. Prescription drugs include: Paxil, Detrol, Demerol, and Elavil.
Women are more likely to take anticholinergic medications, due to the greater number of health conditions reported by women than by men. People living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are also more likely to take anticholinergic medications.
In “Adverse Cognitive Effects of Medications: Turning Attention to Reversibility” published in the Jan. 26, 2015, issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, Drs. Campbell and Boustani call for further research to determine whether cognitive impairment caused by the adverse effects of medications can be reversed and to establish the safety risks of discontinuing these medications.
In the meantime, if you (or a loved one) take any of the above mentioned drugs, do not stop taking them without speaking to your health care provider about the risks versus the benefits.
Noll L. Campbell, Malaz A. Boustani. Adverse Cognitive Effects of Medications. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2015; DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.7667