Antidepressants, Bladder Drugs Tied to Nearly 50% Higher Dementia Risk
For anyone who has experienced it firsthand, dementia is one of the most difficult and heartbreaking medical conditions. The loss of a lifetime’s worth of memories and the inability to continue with daily activities can place an unbearable burden on families and loved ones. There is no cure for dementia, and medical science hasn’t found a way to completely predict who and when it will strike. But we may be slightly closer to minimizing risk factors, as a new study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that certain classes of antidepressants, bladder, and antiepileptic drugs are potentially tied to a nearly 50% higher dementia risk.
The drugs in question are known as anticholinergics, a class of medication that inhibits involuntary muscle movements and various bodily functions by blocking the actions of acetylcholine neurotransmitters. Anticholinergics are used to treat a variety of medical conditions, including depression, overactive bladder, asthma, and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
The study was conducted in the United Kingdom at the University of Nottingham. Researchers utilized a database of anonymized data on over 284,000 adults aged 55 and older between 2004 and 2016 provided by the group QResearch. Researchers analyzed each adult’s exposure to anticholinergics based on their prescription details.
Researchers discovered that there were nearly 50% increased odds of developing dementia in patients with a total anticholinergic exposure of more than 1,095 daily doses within a 10-year period – the equivalent to an older adult taking strong anticholinergic drugs daily for at least three years.
Specific anticholinergic drugs that specifically showed increased risks of dementia include anticholinergic antidepressants, antipsychotics, antiparkinsons, bladder, and epilepsy drugs. The most frequently prescribed of these drugs were antidepressants, anti-vertigo, and bladder antimuscarinic drugs used to treat overactive bladders. Other anticholinergic drugs such as antihistamines and gastrointestinal drugs showed no increased risks of dementia.
While this information is certainly troubling, it’s important to note the limitations of the study. Since researchers utilized existing patient data rather than directly monitoring patients, it’s possible that patients did not take prescribed medication as directed, and anticholinergic exposure levels could have been misclassified. Researchers also stress that their findings point to only an association between the drugs and dementia risk, not a causal relationship.
“However, if this association is causal, the population-attributable fractions indicate that around 10% of dementia diagnoses are attributable to anticholinergic drug exposure, which would equate, for example, to around 20,000 of the 209,600 new cases of dementia per year in the United Kingdom,” the researchers wrote in the study.
The study’s researchers stated that more research is needed to clarify whether anticholinergic medications truly represent a reversable risk factor for dementia.
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