Understanding whether anticholinergic drugs to treat bladder problems increases risk of dementia

Research project: Using healthcare databases to understand whether anticholinergic bladder drugs influence dementia risk

Lead Investigator: Dr Kathryn Richardson 

  • Institution: University of East Anglia 
  • Grant type: Junior Fellowship 
  • Duration: 42 months 
  • Amount: £183,683

Why did we fund this research?

Comments from our Research Network volunteers:

'This work builds on a previous study and aims to prove a link between dementia and bladder drug use. It has a practical outcome for us if a link is proved and the use of these drugs is reviewed.'

Project summary

Anticholinergics are a type of drug that is often used to treat overactive bladder problems. Research suggests that taking these over a long time may affect brain health. This study will determine whether taking anticholinergics increases your risk of dementia and which are the most risky and at what dose and duration. 

The background

Previous research carried out by Dr Kathryn Richardson, suggests that taking medications with anticholinergic properties to treat bladder problems could increase your risk of dementia. However these findings came from a study that wasn’t specifically designed to focus on bladder drugs.

Whilst it indicates this might be true, it is not sufficiently detailed to provide treatment recommendations for bladder symptoms. This study is needed in order to be certain of the impact of long term use of anticholinergic drugs.

What does this project involve?

Data will be taken from GP records in England of 220,000 patients with bladder symptoms. The data will include which medications they’ve been prescribed. The researcher will then look to see if there is any later diagnosis of dementia in either the GP records, the patient’s hospital notes, or as a cause of death on their death certificate.

This will provide evidence about the risk of anticholinergic drugs on developing dementia. If there is a risk, the researcher will then look into whether this varies between the type of anticholinergic drug taken and at what doses. 

How will this project help people with dementia?

The evidence produced from this study could influence the NICE guidelines which inform clinicians on what they should prescribe. It will also help clinicians and people who have bladder problems to make informed decisions about whether they should take the medication or not.