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.”
Depression affects around 6.7% of US adults every year. On a global level, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 300 million people are currently living with the disorder. When it comes to treatment, medication, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy or a combination of these approaches is usually used. But new research adds weight to the argument for regular exercise as a depression treatment. Australia-based non-profit group Black Dog Institute conducted an analysis of data collected from 33,908 Norwegian adults who were followed over an 11-year period. Publishing their results in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the team, led by Prof. Samuel Harvey from the Black Dog Institute, found that not only does a little exercise bring substantial benefits, but a lack of exercise actually contributes to depression. Individuals who didn’t undertake any physical activity were found to be 44% more likely to develop depression than those who did just 1 or 2 hours per week. As a result, the authors concluded that approximately 12% of depression cases could have been prevented if the individual did at least 1 hour of exercise per week. "We've known for some time that exercise has a role to play in treating symptoms of depression, but this is the first time we have been able to quantify the preventive potential of physical activity in terms of reducing future levels of depression,” said Prof. Harvey.