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  • Writer's picturePatricia Faust

Commonly Prescribed Drugs and the Risk of Dementia

Over the past week there has been a lot of buzz about the risks associated with prescription drugs and dementia. I usually cover this area in any of the courses I teach. It is important that people know that some of the memory problems they experience are not due solely to dementia. The reason there has been so much news coverage, however, is that a large research study was completed, and the results were released.

The Research Study

The study, carried out by experts from the University of Nottingham, was published in JAMA –Internal Medicine journal. The links were strongest for certain classes of anticholinergic drugs. This class of drugs includes antidepressants, drugs to treat vertigo, motion sickness or vomiting, and bladder antimuscarinic drugs, commonly used to treat overactive bladder.

The study involved analyzing data on 284,343 adults in the United Kingdom, aged 55 and older, between 2004 and 2016. The researchers wrote in the study that “there was nearly 50% increased odds of dementia” associated with a total anticholinergic exposure of more than 1,095 daily doses within a 10-year period. This is equivalent to an older adult taking a strong anticholinergic medication daily for at least three years.


Anticholinergic drugs help to contract and relax muscles. They work by blocking acetylcholine, a neurochemical that transmits messages in the nervous system. Doctors prescribe these drugs to treat a number of different conditions: COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), bladder conditions, allergies, gastrointestinal disorders and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. It is known that these drugs can have short-term effects, including confusion and memory loss. But there is uncertainty if whether long-term use increases the risk of dementia.

The study findings showed increased risk of dementia for anticholinergic drugs overall and specifically for anticholinergic antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, anti-parkinson’s drugs. Bladder drugs and epilepsy drugs. It should be noted however that there were some flaws in the study. It could not be determined if all patients took their drugs as prescribed. Therefore, the researchers found only an association between anticholinergic drugs and dementia – not a causal relationship. Simply this means that people taking those drugs did happen to have greater risks developing dementia, but the drugs were not the cause of the dementia.

Next Steps

Now, if you find yourself in the middle of this finding, meaning you are taking one of these drugs, don’t panic and just stop taking your medicine. Doctors are being alerted about these research findings. Get in touch with your doctor and express your concerns. There are many other drugs available that might alleviate the problem and reduce your risk of dementia. And, doctors must be more diligent in what drugs they prescribe and how often they do medication reviews to learn about any problems associated with the medicine.

We are responsible for taking good care of ourselves. We must speak up when news like this is released to the general public. Any way that we can reduce our risk of development of dementia is worthy of the time we research it.


Commonly prescribed drugs could increase the risk of dementia, says a new study (2019, June 24) retrieved 3 July 2019 from

Howard, J. (June 24, 2019). Higher dementia risk in older adults, study says. Retrieved July 3, 2019 from

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