Unclear link between common drugs and dementia

From Care and cure magazine spring 2015, find out about a possible link between dementia and sleep aids.

Care and cure magazine - Spring 2015

A large-scale study in the US has suggested a link between dementia and certain drugs, including some sleep aids and hay fever treatments.

The researchers studied more than 3,000 people aged 65 and over to follow their use of drugs known as anticholinergics. After following these people for seven years, the researchers found that people taking the drugs for three years or more weremore likely to have developed dementia than those who did not take the drugs.

As this was an observational study it is not possible to say whether the drugs themselves increased the likelihood of dementia, or whether they are linked indirectly. As all of the drugs were studied together, the researchers could not tell whether this effect is due to one drug in particular rather than the whole group.

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer's Society, said:

'More robust research is needed to understand what the potential dangers are, and if some drugs are more likely to have this effect than others.

'We would encourage doctors and pharmacists to be aware of this potential link and would advise anyone concerned about this to speak to their GP before stopping any medication.'

Currently available treatments for Alzheimer’s disease include cholinesterase inhibitors, which help to boost the levels of a chemical messenger called acetylcholine in the brain. The anticholinergic drugs found in some hay fever treatments or sleep aids work in an opposite function, which is why they have been scrutinised, though it is unclear whether there are long-term effects.

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