Recent studies have discovered drugs linked to dementia that are more commonly prescribed than we realize.
Drugs like anticholinergics and benzodiazepines are known for their effects on cognitive function as well as the increase in dementia cases, particularly among the elderly. As a Delaware drug and alcohol treatment center, we wanted to look further into the drugs that cause dementia and how they do it.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia is a condition characterized by loss of memory, language, speech, problem-solving skills, and other cognitive functions. A common cause of dementia is a condition called Alzheimer’s, a degenerative disease that causes severe memory loss and kills brain cells. Aside from memory loss, some common symptoms of dementia include difficulty concentrating, becoming easily confused when completing normal tasks, mood swings, and struggling with language.
Drugs That Can Cause Dementia
While the root of dementia is uncertain and there are no cures for dementia-related conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, researchers have discovered certain drugs linked to dementia that should be avoided. People who take certain medications are at a higher risk of developing dementia; abusing these drugs increases this risk exponentially. Unfortunately, some of these drugs are more commonly used than we think.
Anticholinergics are drugs that block a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine sends signals between nerves within the central nervous system, and controls muscle contraction, dilates blood vessels, increases bodily secretions (like urinating), affects heart rate, and helps with memory. Anticholinergics are often used to treat conditions like urinary incontinence, overactive bladder, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and even Parkinson’s disease in order to prevent involuntary muscle movement and bodily functions. Anticholinergics deplete the brain’s storage of acetylcholine, significantly impacting a person’s thinking and memory.
Some common anticholinergics include:
- atropine (Atropen)
- benztropine mesylate (Cogentin)
- cyclopentolate (Cyclogyl)
- darifenacin (Enablex)
- fesoterodine (Toviaz)
- flavoxate (Urispas)
- homatropine hydrobromide
- hyoscyamine (Levsinex)
- propantheline (Pro-banthine)
In addition to causing dementia, anticholinergics also have a potential for abuse. Individuals may abuse them for their stimulant effects, damaging their brain in the process. Those who are addicted to these medications can begin their recovery with medically monitored detox offered at Banyan Delaware.
Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are a type of prescription drug known as tranquilizers. Common benzos like Valium and Xanax are prescribed to treat anxiety, panic attacks, seizures, and insomnia. They work by enhancing the effect of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA has a calming effect on the brain, relaxing the person and slowing nerve activity. Because benzos have such a heavy impact on the brain, they’re number one on the list of drugs that cause dementia.
The most commonly used benzodiazepines include:
A study conducted on over 9,000 patients reported that those who took benzos for three to six months were 32% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, and those who took benzos for more than six months had an 84% chance of developing the disease.1 Benzo’s lined to dementia can be attributed to their effect on nerve activity. Unfortunately, benzodiazepines are also addictive, making it difficult for people to stop using them once they’ve developed a tolerance. Using these medications for long periods of time can eventually result in permanent cognitive problems over time.