June 27, 2019
Prescription pills that many people take for what ails them actually may be putting them at risk for dementia, results of a study conducted by the UK’s University of Nottingham, Aldermoor Health Centre, and University of Oxford have demonstrated.
The drugs—anticholinergics—are widely prescribed for such conditions as urinary incontinence, overactive bladder, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, depression and psychosis, gastrointestinal conditions, and the involuntary muscle movements associated with Parkinson’s disease. Examples include atropine, bentropine mesylate, clidinium, dicylomine, oxybutynin, scopolamine, solifenacin, and tiotroplum—but there are many more.
Anticholinergic drugs are used to block the action of acetylcholine—a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, that transfers signals between certain cells to affect your body functions, according to Healthline.
The investigation—published on June 24 in the Journal of the American Medical Association–Internal Medicine—found that patients over the age of 55 who took anticholinergic medication each day for more than three years had a 50% greater risk of developing dementia.
“This study provides further evidence that doctors should be careful when prescribing certain drugs that have anticholinergic properties,” Tom Dening, one of the authors and head of the Center for Dementia at the University of Nottingham, said in a press release. “However, it’s important that patients taking medications of this kind don’t just stop them abruptly, as this may be much more harmful. If patients have concerns, then they should discuss them with their doctor to consider the pros and cons of the treatment they are receiving.”
According to a report by Newsweek, the researchers analyzed medical data on nearly 59,000 people with dementia, which they collected between January 2004 and January 2016. Of the records they analyzed, the average age of patients was 82 and about 63% of them were women.
Approximately 57% of the patients in the study received a prescription for at least one strong anticholinergic drug, one to 11 years before being diagnosed with dementia. Although the link found between the drugs and development of dementia appears strong, the researchers noted that their findings are associations and do not show that the drugs cause dementia.
“Further research is needed to confirm whether or not the association between these drugs and risk of dementia is causal. These drugs are prescribed for a number of health conditions and any concerns patients might have about them should be discussed with their doctors,” Professor Martin Rossor, NIHR National Director of Dementia Research, based in London, told Newsweek.
Research contact: @Newsweek