Popular Drugs That Increase the Risk of Dementia Even at Low Dosage




A recent University of Washington’s study gave strong evidence that some popular drugs can raise the risk of dementia in old people.

All of these drugs showed the same mechanisms within key areas in the brain, and they are used mainly as ingredients in over-the-counter medications for a cough, cold, sleep, and allergies, as well as for Healthline and overactive bladder.

Drugs and Dementia

The most popular drugs connected to dementia are those containing diphenhydramine. It is used in various known products like Nytol Sominex, Benadryl, Triaminic Allergy, Theraflu, and many others.

Other drugs used in the study were chlorpheniramine (Aller-Chlor); tolterodine (Detrol); and oxybutynin (Ditropan) for overactive bladder; as well as tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline or doxepin.

Background Data

Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter crucial for proper memory and cognitive function.  For instance, Alzheimer’s disease is connected with the drastic reduction of the levels of this neurotransmitter, as a result of reduced activity of choline acetyltransferase, the enzyme that produces acetylcholine.

The fact that there is a connection between the low levels of acetylcholine and dementia, among other poor brain functions, made researchers from previous studies link some medications to lowered acetylcholine activity and mild cognitive impairment. These medications include the aforementioned ones.

Although it is considered that discontinuation of the medications reverses the mental deficit, it was proven that anticholinergic drugs can cause permanent changes resulting in irreversible dementia.

It is known that these medications cause short-term confusion or drowsiness, as stated in the prescribing information. However, their long-term effects on the mental function are overall unknown to doctors and patients taking them.

Other drugs associated with raised risk of dementia are antihistamines and sedative hypnotic drugs (sleeping pills). Older adults use these medications, both over-the-counter and prescription types, at an alarming rate, which puts them at serious risk of dementia.

New Data

Researchers have investigated the medical records from 3,434 participants at the age of 65 or older, who didn’t have dementia, in order to determine if the use of cumulative anticholinergic is linked to a raised risk of incident dementia. The initial recruitment happened from 1994 to 1669 and from 2000 to 2003, but the analysis also included data through September 30, 2012.

Anticholinergic exposure was determined from computerized records of pharmacies. Participants were followed up over a period of 10 years, and their cumulative exposure was continuously updated. It was found that about 20% of them use anticholinergic drugs.

During this period, 23.2 % of the participants (797) developed dementia, and 80% of these (637 participants) developed Alzheimer disease. The cumulative dose-response relation was observed during the 10 year period, concerning Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. It was discovered that the more the cumulative anticholinergic use, the higher the dementia risk. For example, a person will reach the heaviest exposure level if s/he took any of the anticholinergic agents daily for over 3 year-period.

The results of the study are concerning, and the researchers propose greater effort to raise the awareness among older adults and care professionals about the risk of the long-term use of these medications. Chronic use of these medications even at low dosages should be avoided.


This study points out the dangers of the long-term use of these types of medications, such as Benadryl and over-the-counter sleeping pills. It suggests using natural approaches instead of these drugs, which have proven to successfully address the key problem (allergies, insomnia, etc.), while at the same time affecting positively on the brain function.

For instance, isoquercitrin (EMIQ) is a natural compound enzymatically modified which has shown to have proper anti-allergy effects, simultaneously blocking the formation of the protein considered to take part in the development of brain damage in Alzheimer’s disease, called beta-amyloid.

Via Cure Joy

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