Senior Lifestyles: Common drugs may impact Dementia

Published 2:56 pm Monday, November 27, 2017

We’re hearing a great deal these days about the opioid crisis, and it’s out of control.  Many seniors take prescription drugs, but not many read the complete product instructions and even fewer pay attention to the warnings or contra-indications that are often included with those medicines by the pharmacy. Two classes of drugs that come to mind are benzodiazepines and anticholinergics.

Let’s start with the class of drugs called benzodiazepines. Many doctors prescribed them to their elderly patients to treat anxiety, insomnia, and a host of other problems. But a recent study regarding long-term use of benzodiazepines like Xanax, Valium and Ativan may be a cause for concern.

Patients who of been on benzodiazepines for an extended period of time have tended to experience strong withdrawal symptoms, and there is some question about the long-term effectiveness of the benzodiazepines. Therefore, international guidelines recommend only short-term use of the drugs. What makes that announcement rather alarming is that in the United States, benzodiazepines are widely prescribed to elderly patients specifically for treatment of anxiety and insomnia.

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Here’s the problem, a new study reported in the British Medical Journal noted that long-term users of benzodiazepines may be at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. So while benzodiazepines may resolve one problem, they may be exacerbating another more devastating problem. The study found that benzodiazepine use for three months or more was associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 51%. The longer the exposure to benzodiazepines, the greater the risk of Alzheimer’s, and the longer-acting benzodiazepines were also found to increase risk more than short-acting benzodiazepines.

Benzodiazepines are known to affect memory and cognition. But that is an proof that there use contributes to the onset of dementia symptoms because anxiety, insomnia, and depression for which the drug is often used are also symptoms experienced in the years prior to a diagnosis of dementia being made.

The second types of popular drugs that may have some unpleasant surprises are the anticholinergics – drugs that are often used by men and women dealing with incontinence. These include prescription medicines like Ditropan, Detrol and several others.

Because people want their problems fixed, or at least reduced, they are often willing to take a drug without checking to see if there might be some hidden surprise about its use that negatively affects some other aspect of their health. This is more likely among elderly patients who often deal with problems of incontinence. One more issue is that anticholinergics are directly linked to accelerating or exacerbating the problems of dementia in patients that are already suffering from diseases like Alzheimer’s. That creates a problem and a dilemma.

Be sure before taking any drug to learn about all the known side effects by asking your doctor or pharmacist. Trading one set of physical or mental issues for another, possibly more problematic issue side effects, makes the simple task of doing some research well worth the time.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving, and thank you for being a loyal reader.

Ron Kauffman is a Consultant & Expert Speaker on Issues of Aging, Medicare & Obamacare. His wife’s geriatric management practice serves clients in Henderson, Polk & Brevard Counties.  Ron is the author of Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease, available as a Kindle book on He and his wife may be contacted at (828) 696-9799 or by email at: