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Could Your Medication Increase Your Risk of Dementia?

Dementia describes a group of symptoms that happen when the cells in the brain no longer function normally. Dementia effects working memory, attention, and the speed of body movements. This disease usually effects people in their later years and progresses throughout the rest of their life. According to, there are around 50 million people living with dementia around the globe. This number is projected to rise to 152 million people by 2050! There are many types of dementia (Alzheimer's Disease seems to be the most well known) depending on the area of the brain that is most effected. The cause of dementia has yet to be determined, but recently researchers have found a strong correlation between a certain type of drug and an increased risk of getting dementia.

Anticholinergic Agents

These types of drugs are called anticholinergic agents, and are prescribed to treat many different conditions. These drugs are primarily used to help people suffering from muscle spasms within the smooth muscles of the

gastrointestinal tract, the cardiovascular system and to help control vomiting. These drugs are also being prescribed secondarily as antidepressants and antihistamines. Unfortunately, these drugs have an unintended effect on the brain and cognition as they alter acetylcholine levels in the central nervous system. A recent study found that anticholinergic use in persons 65 years or older is associated with an increased risk for all-cause dementia and alzhiemers disease. This study also found this increased risk for dementia was consistent across all anticholinergic subclasses regardless of the condition being treated.

I think it is important that this side effect be discussed with your doctor if you are taking any of these medications. For a complete list of these medications in question, CLICK HERE. The risks of possible side effects vs. the intended therapeutic effect should always be discussed. There may also be other effective medications or treatments for your condition that do not carry as great a risk.


  1. Jessen F, Kaduszkiewicz H, Daerr M, et al. Anticholinergic drug use and risk for dementia: target for dementia prevention. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2010;260(suppl 2):S111-S115.

  2. Ancelin ML, Artero S, Portet F, Dupuy AM, Touchon J, Ritchie K. Non-degenerative mild cognitive impairment in elderly people and use of anticholinergic drugs: longitudinal cohort study. BMJ. 2006;332(7539):455-459.

  3. Lechevallier-Michel N, Molimard M, Dartigues JF, Fabrigoule C, Fourrier-Réglat A. Drugs with anticholinergic properties and cognitive performance in the elderly: results from the PAQUID Study. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2005;59(2):143-151.

  4. Boustani M, Campbell N, Munger S, Maidment I, Fox C. Impact of anticholinergics on the aging brain: a review and practical application. Aging Health.2008;4:311-320.

  5. Ness J, Hoth A, Barnett MJ, Shorr RI, Kaboli PJ. Anticholinergic medications in community-dwelling older veterans: prevalence of anticholinergic symptoms, symptom burden, and adverse drug events. Am J Geriatr Pharmacother. 2006;4(1):42-51.

  6. American Geriatrics Society 2012 Beers Criteria Update Expert Panel. American Geriatrics Society updated Beers criteria for potentially inappropriate medication use in older adults. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2012;60(4):616-631.

  7. Fox C, Richardson K, Maidment ID, et al. Anticholinergic medication use and cognitive impairment in the older population: the Medical Research Council Cognitive Function and Ageing Study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2011;59(8):1477-1483.

  8. Gray, Shelly L., et al. "Cumulative use of strong anticholinergics and incident dementia: a prospective cohort study." JAMA internal medicine 175.3 (2015): 401-407.

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