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Anticholinergic drugs linked to increased risk of dementia

25/06/2019

Anticholinergic drugs linked to increased risk of dementia

New research shows that some drugs commonly prescribed for treating depression, epilepsy and other conditions may increase a person’s risk of dementia.


The drugs, which belong to a family of medicines called anticholinergics, have previously been lined to short-term problems with thinking.


According to the new study of patients in the UK, the findings of which are published in Jama Internal Medicine, using such drugs could lead to possible long-term brain side effects. However, experts are stressing that the study findings do not prove there is a direct risk and that patients already taking these drugs – literally millions of people in the UK - should not stop doing so.


Anticholinergic drugs block the action of a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) in the brain which controls signals around the body. They are used to treat a variety of conditions, including depression, epilepsy, psychosis, overactive bladder, Parkinson’s disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and some allergies.


For the study, researchers looked at nearly 300,000 patients (58,000 with dementia) and their use of medication going back more than 20 years. They found a strong link between the use of certain anticholinergic drugs – namely ones used to treat depression, Parkinson’s, psychosis, bladder conditions and epilepsy - and an increased risk of dementia in individuals aged 55 and over.


Anticholinergic drugs used to treat asthma, muscle problems, heart rhythm issues and gastrointestinal problems were not found to pose a dementia risk.


Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr Jana Voigt, from Alzheimer's Research UK, said: “There is a growing body of evidence that suggests certain anticholinergic drugs are linked to an increased dementia risk.


“While finding a link between certain strong anticholinergic drugs and an increased risk of dementia, it doesn’t tell us if these drugs cause the condition.”

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