A study released by the University of Washington has shown that over the counter drugs (including some of those for hay fever, asthma and sleeping aids) significantly raise the likelihood of developing dementia in people over 65.
Experts have stressed that people should not panic and should not change their medications without consulting their GP.
The study monitored the health of 3,434 men and women aged 65 and over for a period of seven years, none of whom had any signs of dementia at the start of the study. The intake of over the counter medicines containing ‘anticholinergic-type drugs’ was studied over this period. These include some hay fever , sleep-aid , asthma and anti-depressant drugs. Some examples in the UK include Piriton and Nytol.
Scientists examined pharmacy and medical records to establish the frequency and dosage of these types of medicines being taken by each participant. The occurrence of dementia within the control group was then compared to dementia diagnoses in the following decade. The results showed that for those participants taking the highest doses of drugs in question, the risk of dementia increased by 54 per cent compared with no use. The risk of Alzheimer’s was raised by 63 per cent.
The types of medication which have generated interest are anticholinergic-type drugs. One of the side effects of these types of drugs, is that they block a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. These drugs are accompanied by patient information leaflets which warn of potential to affect attention span, memory loss and dry mouth. In light of this new study, scientists are suggesting that warnings should also inform people of the potential link to an increased risk of dementia.
The Alzheimers Society have said that:
“There have been concerns that regular use by older people of certain medications with anticholinergic effects, such as sleep aids and hay-fever treatments, can increase the risk of dementia in certain circumstances, which this study supports.
“However, it is still unclear whether this is the case and if so, whether the effects seen are a result of long-term use or several episodes of short-term use. More robust research is needed to understand what the potential dangers are, and if some drugs are more likely to have this effect than others.
“We would encourage doctors and pharmacists to be aware of this potential link and would advise anyone concerned about this to speak to their GP before stopping any medication.”
The authors of the study conclude:
“Given the devastating consequences of dementia, informing older adults about this potentially modifiable risk would allow them to choose alternative products and collaborate with their health care professionals to minimise overall anticholinergic use.”
For more detailed information, visit The Telegraph article.