A new study is raising concern about a connection between over the counter sleep medications and dementia. Researchers at the University of Washington analyze data from the histories of patient’s with dementia and identified a strong correlation between the use of certain medications and the development of dementia. They also identified a similar acting set of prescription drugs that may be a contributing risk factor.
Which drugs are they concerned about?
The main type of drug that was connected with a higher risk for dementia were drugs that had anticholinergic effects. There are some tricyclic antidepressants used that have this effect, but the greatest concern was found with the fact that one of the most common sleep aids and bronchilators carried the risk too. Diphenhydramine is a drug used in OTC sleep aids and antihistamines. There was a similar effect found with the first generation antihistamines and antimuscarinics as well.
The length of time is important
Professor Shelly Gray, the research team leader, cautioned people not to abandon their medication because of the report findings. Gray emphasized that while there is a correlation with dementia, there was also another determining factor which was the dose and duration of the use of each of the substances. For most of the anticholinergics, a daily dose of 25mg taken every day for 3 to 5 years would lead to the increased risk for dementia. For most people who only use the medications for temporary relief, there shouldn’t be any worries about their dementia risk increasing.
Why this news isn’t surprising
While these findings may come as a shock and surprise to the general public, it isn’t that surprising to the medical community. Anticholinergics have long been used to treat severe psychosis because in large doses they can effectively erase memory. It is the knowledge that low doses on a daily basis may also build up to have this effect that was not known before. While you should continue taking your medication as prescribed, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor about other possibilities for treatment so you do not raise your risk for dementia.