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Study Finds Link Between Certain Medications And Dementia


Anticholinergic drugs are often prescribed as antidepressants. (Becca Costello, WFIU/WTIU News)

Certain types of antidepressant and incontinence medications could increase the risk of dementia later in life. That’s according to a new study funded by the Alzheimer’s Society.

The study examined the long-term effects of anticholinergic drugs on brain health over time. It found they’re linked to a 30 percent higher risk of developing dementia.

Dr. Noll Campbell is a scientist with the Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis, and a co-author of the study. He says the risk increases with higher doses, but isn’t related to the age of a person taking the medication.

“If you use these medications today, your risk could be higher up to 20 years from today,” Campbell says.

Campbell says this study is the first to examine such a long period, covering 20 years of prescriptions and patient records.

But he also says more studies are needed before they can say the medications actually cause dementia. He says while the risk of dementia increases, they have not found that the medications directly cause the cognitive impairment.

Campbell says the medications are common; about a third of the patients in the study were exposed to the medications at some point during the study.

Campbell recommends any patients taking anticholinergic medications speak to their doctors or pharmacists about switching to a “brain-safe” alternative.

“For most of these medicines, there is a brain-safe, or a safer alternative that can be prescribed,” Campbell says.

He says the research can help patients keep their brains healthy.

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