Common Meds Linked to Higher Dementia Risk

A man pouring a pill from a bottle into his hand
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Could the drug you take for insomnia, depression or bladder problems put you at greater risk for mental decline, or even dementia?

For the past decade, a growing number of studies have raised red flags about a common class of medications — called anticholinergics — that are frequently used by older adults.

These drugs, available both over the counter and by prescription, are used for a wide range of disorders, from hay fever and sleep problems to overactive bladder and Parkinson’s disease.

Find out which sleep medications may affect your memory. Check out this Staying Sharp story on whether these drugs are bad for your brain.

There’s a long list of medications included in the anticholinergic group — one estimate put it at 600 drugs — but some of the most common ones are old-school antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine); sleep aid drugs like Nytol and Tylenol PM, which contain diphenhydramine; certain antidepressants like Paxil (paroxetine) and Elavil (amitriptyline); and overactive bladder meds like oxybutynin (Ditropan XL and Oxytrol).

Anticholinergic drugs work by blocking a natural chemical in the brain, called acetylcholine, which helps different types of cells communicate with each other. It’s important for heart rate and certain muscle contractions, and it’s also vital for memory and learning, which is why taking these drugs may interfere with thinking ability.

Recent studies now indicate that regularly taking more than one anticholinergic drug, or taking a high dose for a long period, is linked to a higher likelihood of dementia in older adults.

And a new study finds that these drugs have a greater effect in those who are already at increased risk for Alzheimer’s.

To find out more, go to the full article: "These Common Meds Linked to Higher Dementia Risk."

This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any expert, professional or specialty advice or recommendations. Readers are urged to consult with their medical providers for all questions.

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