PLAINS TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – We take medication to treat illness and injury but a new study may have you questioning what’s in your medicine cabinet. It shows some commonly used drugs can raise your risk of dementia.
The study was published June 24 in JAMA. Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller reviewed it with an expert in the field of dementia and memory loss to discuss the major takeaways and what you need to know to protect your mental ability.
“This is just looking at, you know, comparing the cases of dementia to the controls,” said Geisinger Memory and Cognition Program Director Glen Finney, MD. The findings of a more than decade-long study done in England don’t surprise him. “This is showing yet again an effect that many of us in the field have been worried about for at least 15, 20 years.”
Following more than a quarter-million adults aged 55 and older, the study looked at those on a class of medication called anti-cholinergic drugs for at least three years. The drugs are used to treat conditions including depression, epilepsy and even bladder control. Dr. Finney said, “That was a big finding in this study that they had a lot of problems with medications that are used to stop people from having to go to the bathroom, especially if they have incontinence.”
U.K. researchers found those on anti-cholinergic drugs had a nearly 50 percent increased risk of dementia. Anti-cholinergic drugs lower the level of the compound acetylcholine which functions as a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger in the brain. “It makes good logical sense that anything that decreases the acetylcholine availability or utilization in your brain is going to cause memory and thinking problems,” said Dr. Finney.
That was a problem for Jimmy Gelgot who was profiled in an Eyewitness News Healthbeat in October 2018. The Kingston man took anti-cholinergic drugs for more than 30 years to treat bipolar disorder. “We were able to deescalate him and get him to some brain-sparing alternatives, and we did see improvement in his functioning,” acknowledged Dr. Finney who says the anti-cholinergic study should have you asking your physician an important question. “Is this a medication that I really need or can I get off this medication or are their alternatives that aren’t anti-cholinergic?”
Dr. Finney says he almost always avoids prescribing anti-cholinergic drugs for his patients. It really comes down to medication risk versus benefit.