Common Medications for Seniors are Linked to Higher Dementia Risk

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Ageing is a primary risk factor for developing a neurodegenerative condition such as dementia. Those ageing in place can take steps towards slowing the onset of reduced cognitive function, like staying active and engaging the brain through activities. In addition to these proactive measures, seniors should be aware of key things to avoid that may adversely impact cognitive health and increase the risk of a fall. 

A new study found that a certain type of medication can increase an ageing person’s chance of developing dementia by nearly 50%. You may be wondering if any of the medications you or your loved ones take are among those included in the study. We will review the study and explain how certain types of medicine impact the brain. 

Even if the study’s findings do not directly apply to your situation, you can still work towards strengthening your brain and taking precautions to safeguard your ageing in place experience. Alert1 offers both in-home and on-the-go medical alert devices to keep you safe wherever you are. While it is hard to predict if and when a fall may occur, you can always rely on Alert1 for emergency assistance whenever you need it. As you age, you can maintain your daily routine with the peace of mind that comes from knowing help is at your fingertips. 

New Study’s Findings

The researchers in this study honed in on a key finding from their observations. They determined that adults older than age 55 who had consistently taken “anticholinergic” medications had a significantly increased chance of developing dementia. Anticholinergic medicines work to block some of the brain’s signaling to help with bladder control and Parkinson’s disease, among other conditions. Finding such a large correlation between age, anticholinergic medicines, and dementia is casting a new light on such medicines. 

Dementia is a complex condition with many risk factors. Because of this, the researchers also accounted for those other risk factors, like weight and cardiovascular health, in their sample selection and analysis. The researchers studied the medical records of roughly 59,000 individuals who were taking a regimen of anticholinergic medicines for at least 3 years and had a form of dementia and the records of just over 250,000 patients who did not take the medicine and did not have any form of dementia. They looked at records from 2004-2016 to isolate a group of people who had taken anticholinergic medicines over time. 

The study concluded that strong anticholinergic drugs have a great impact on the likelihood that older adults will develop dementia. The findings point specifically to anticholinergic antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, anti-Parkinson’s drugs, bladder drugs, and epilepsy drugs as the main link to dementia. There are clearly implications of this study which may affect how doctors prescribe medicine to older adults who are prone to dementia. 

You should talk with your doctor about the findings of this study and take a closer look at any medications you are on. You can also learn about Alert1’s on-the-go alert device with fall protection, as this is a great device in the event a medical emergency occurs when you are out of your home.  

The Most Common Anticholinergics

An explanation of common anticholinergic drugs will help you know their function and which conditions they treat. There are at least 600 types of anticholinergic drugs that treat a variety of different conditions. Anticholinergic drugs block certain communications in the brain by interfering with neurotransmitters. The interference prevents the brain’s signals from reaching parts of the body, effectively controlling involuntary reactions in the gastrointestinal tract, lungs, and urinary tract. Anticholinergic medicines do not prevent conditions, but they do serve as a treatment.   

Doctors prescribe anticholinergic drugs for many conditions. Here is a list of some of the common conditions:

  • Overactive bladder
  • Gastrointestinal disorders 
  • Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
  • COPD
  • Asthma 
  • Depression
  • Insomnia 

As you can see, anticholinergic drugs are multipurpose. The drugs in these instances help control the involuntary muscle movements which cause the condition. A doctor will look at a patient’s symptoms and assess whether an anticholinergic treatment is best suited for their experience. Some medicines are true anticholinergics while others have anticholinergic properties. Below are the most common anticholinergic drugs and what they target. 

  1. Benztropine Mesylate (Cogentin) and Trihexyphenidyl (Artane) : Used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. The medicine helps to calm symptomatic tremors, muscle movement, and speech impairment. 

  2. Darifenacin (Enablex): This drug is for overactive bladders. Uncontrollable muscle contractions in the bladder cause frequent urination, so doctors often prescribe medicine to help relax the muscle. 

  3. Atropine (Atropen): While commonly used to dilate pupils for examinations, atropine has other medical applications. Doctors may prescribe it to treat cholinergic toxicity in which the brain produces too many neurotransmitters. 

  4. Oxybutynin (Ditropan): Oxybutynin treats people who have poor bladder control due to an overactive bladder or spina bifida. The medicine can be a regular tablet or a slow-release tablet to reduce symptoms. 

  5. Scopolamine: Administered through a patch, scopolamine helps manage the symptoms of motion sickness. The medicine blocks the brain’s signals which trigger nausea and vomiting. 

  6. Glycopyrrolate: Glycopyrrolate’s main use is for controlling saliva production. The drug also helps treat ulcers as it can block the production of saliva and stomach acid. 

  7. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl):  Diphenhydramine is a common antihistamine with anticholinergic properties. In addition to treating allergy symptoms like itching, the drug also treats motion sickness and insomnia. 

 Anticholinergic medicines may cause side effects. The list of the most frequent side effects includes dry mouth, constipation, and drowsiness. The side effects can worsen over time, so be sure to contact your doctor if you notice the symptoms becoming more severe. As a result of the study’s findings, dementia might also be a side effect of taking these medications overtime for ageing adults. 

Any older person taking these medications may need medical assistance at a moment’s notice if the side effects start to make you dizzy or confused. A fall can happen at random, so consider a medical alert device in your home so that you can access help when you need it. The wearable pendant goes where you go to give you peace of mind.  

Why Anticholinergic Drugs May Contribute to Dementia

The causal relationship between anticholinergic drugs and dementia is not yet clear. The current studies on the topic only make correlations and observations of anticholinergic drug use and chance of developing dementia in older adults. This is not to say that research has stopped pursuing the link. There are likely studies underway delving into this exact question. There are some factors that we can reasonably assume solidify the link between the drugs and dementia risk. 

Since dementia consists of the degeneration of neurons in the brain, anticholinergics could add to this degeneration when they interfere in the brain’s communication. Anticholinergics cause purposeful cognitive impairment to prevent the symptoms of the condition they treat. Extended use of these drugs could begin to have adverse effects on the brain’s health. In fact, another 2015 study reported that people had increased levels of Alzheimer’s brain features after taking anticholinergics for more than 2 years compared to those who took the drugs less. 

The effects of anticholinergics are meant to be reversible when a person stops taking the medicine. However, the age of the person taking the drugs could influence how the drugs impact the brain long term. As a person ages, their brain produces less neurotransmitters. Anticholinergics block the same neurotransmitters, so the combination of age and the medicine make the cognitive impairment more noticeable and potentially problematic. 

The chances of developing dementia become higher as the brain degenerates. While there seems to be a relationship between anticholinergic drugs and the risk of dementia, research still has to confirm this. For now, the link between the two is strong enough to cause doctors and patients to reconsider their treatment plans.   

How to Process New Anticholinergic Link to Dementia

If you are concerned after reading about the new anticholinergic study, there is a good reason. You should talk to your doctor, especially if you take any anticholinergic medicine, have mild cognitive impairment, or have a family history of neurodegenerative diseases. Adults over 65 are already predisposed to developing dementia, having their chances of getting dementia doubled every 5 years. The new link of anticholinergic drugs to dementia could increase that risk substantially. You can take steps to assess your risk and pursue options which could reduce your chances of getting dementia. 

The first step to take is to contact your doctor. Together, you can discuss the findings of the study and take a closer look at your medications. It’s an important practice to stay up to date with any of your prescriptions, so assessing how well any anticholinergic medicines are working is a good place to start. There may be an alternative therapy available to treat the symptoms you experience. After you start the conversation, you and your doctor can decide the next best steps. 

Talking with your doctor first is essential. If you stop taking a prescribed anticholinergic without first consulting your doctor, there could be dangerous side effects. Anticholinergics generally need a gradual weaning off process in which you take less and less over time until your body acclimates. To prevent any of these negative consequences, let your doctor create a safe plan. While you may meet the news of the potential link to dementia with caution, consulting with your doctor will help him/her assess your risk. Any ageing adult should take their brain’s health seriously and take proactive measures to keep the brain healthy.  

People at Risk of Dementia Should Consider Using a Medical Alert System

While you work with your doctor to understand how the news of anticholinergic medicines may affect you, you can consider a medical alert system. For those with dementia or other forms of cognitive impairment, a medical alert device can get you immediate help wherever and whenever you need it. 

Alert1’s on-the-go device with fall detection technology is a great choice for older adults with dementia. Unlike other medical alert companies, we do not charge members for “false alarms” or multiple button pushes which might occur if your dementia makes you forgetful or confused. Additionally, the device is GPS enabled so that our emergency agents can pinpoint your location and get help to you if you fall or get lost. As soon as you press the help button or the fall alert is triggered, the emergency response team will stay on the line with you until help arrives, so you won’t have to face a frightening or confusing incident alone.

People with dementia may need tailored instructions from the operator if their condition makes understanding directions hard. All of our Command Center staff are trained to handle all situations and give clear assistance to people with dementia. Dementia not only impacts comprehension but also can impair movement and make falling a real possibility. Instant communication with a trained operator may be reassuring for a person in the moment when they need help. Alert1 medical alert devices enable people living with dementia to maintain a sense of independence for as long as possible while never being truly alone.