Study suggests link between long-term use of anticholinergics and dementia risk

Published 26 January 2015

The long-term use of certain medications with anticholinergic effects, such as sleep aids and hayfever treatments, could be linked to an increased risk of dementia.

This is according to a study published in the journal JAMA International Medicine today (26 January 2015).

Researchers at the University of Washington studied 3434 participants aged 65 and over for a period of seven or more years. In that time 797 of the participants developed dementia. The researchers used a technique so that they could compare the use of different anticholinergic drugs – they calculated how many days each participant would have taken any one of the drugs for. They then analysed the risk of developing dementia for people who had taken the drugs for different amounts of time. The link was only clear for those who had taken drugs for three years or more, although we don't know if this applies to people taking the drugs for three years continuously, or for shorter periods.

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

'There have been concerns that regular use by older people of certain medications with anticholinergic effects, such as sleep aids and hayfever treatments, can increase the risk of dementia in certain circumstances, which this study supports. However, it is still unclear whether this is the case and if so, whether the effects seen are a result of long-term use or several episodes of short-term use. 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. Alzheimer's Society is funding more research in this area to better understand any connections between these and other drugs on the development of dementia.'

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