Over-the-counter drugs are considered safe because they don’t require a prescription. That view has been challenged by some research. Some common brands of drugs taken by adults have been shown to negatively affect brain function. Anticholinergics affect the brain by blocking acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter. Those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease typically have a marked shortage of acetylcholine.

A long-term study conducted by the Indiana University School of Medicine Center for Aging Research evaluated 1,652 African-Americans over the age of 70 in the Indianapolis area that had normal brain function when the study began. Fifty-three percent of the participants used a ‘possible anticholinergic,’ and 11 percent used a ‘definitive anticholinergic’ drug. They found that those who took drugs classified as ‘definite anticholinergics’ had a four times higher incidence of cognitive impairment, and taking two or more increased the odds even further. According to the findings. “Taking one anticholinergic significantly increased an individual’s risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and taking two of these drugs doubled this risk.”

This study was actually the first to identify a possible link between these drugs – which include over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids and incontinence treatments – and risk of death. “Our findings make it clear that clinicians need to review the cumulative anticholinergic burden in people presenting with problems memorizing or other cognitive skills to determine if the drugs are causing decline in mental status,” said co-author Malaz Boustani, M.D., Regenstrief Institute investigator and associate professor of medicine.

Based on these findings, this information can help you or someone you love reduce your risk of dementia as you get older. The researchers recommend that seniors, in particular, avoid all anticholinergic drugs.

Over-the-counter products containing diphenhydramine are sold under various brand names, such as: Benadryl; Dramamine; Excedrin PM; Nytol; Sominex; Tylenol PM; and Unisom (As a matter of fact, many of the drugs that are sold over-the-counter now actually were prescription drugs that were carefully monitored). Prescription drugs with anticholinergic effects include certain antidepressants; medications to control incontinence; and certain narcotic pain relievers such as: Paxil; Detrol; Demerol; and Elavil.

This study also indicates that drugs with anticholinergic effects might explain the sharp rise in dementia and cognitive decline.

“Simply put, we have confirmed that anticholinergics, something as seemingly benign as a medication for inability to get a good night’s sleep or for motion sickness, can cause or worsen cognitive impairment, specifically long-term mild cognitive impairment which involves gradual memory loss,” said Dr. Boustani.

This information is surprising and not just a little frightening, to think that something most people believe is safe to take can actually be a contributor to the mental decline in Alzheimer’s disease.




Psyorg – Common drugs linked to cognitive impairment and possibly to increased risk of death: http://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-06-common-drugs-linked-cognitive-impairment.html