Good News for Parkinson's Patients

Anticholinergic medications not linked to dementia risk in Parkinson's disease patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

(RxWiki News) Patients with Parkinson's disease (PD) may be able to continue taking their medications without risking cognitive decline, new evidence suggests.

In spite of recent concerns, a new study found that PD patients taking anticholinergic medications were not at an increased risk of developing dementia. Previous studies have suggested a greater risk of dementia — Alzheimer's disease (AD) in particular — among patients who use anticholinergics regularly.

Anticholinergics are a class of drugs commonly used to treat diseases like PD, asthma, bladder dysfunction and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These drugs help block the involuntary muscle spasms caused by these conditions. They are also prescribed for some mood and sleep disorders.

Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. AD is the most common form of dementia. PD is a progressive disorder of the central nervous system that affects movement and often causes tremors.

"This is the first study to explore an association between the anticholinergic burden and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in PD participants," said lead study author David J. Burn, MD, a professor of movement disorder neurology at Newcastle University in England, in a press release. "Our assessment will help determine whether patients prescribed medication with anticholinergic activity are more likely to develop dementia, and hence allow early targeted intervention to reduce future risk."

For this study, Dr. Burn and team looked at 219 PD patients who were taking anticholinergics and 99 PD patients who were not. All patients were in the early stages of dementia.

The medication history of these patients, including over-the-counter drug use, was assessed using the Anticholinergic Drug Scale (ADS), which rates drugs on a scale of 0 to 3 according to the amount of anticholinergic ingredients they contain.

These patients were then split into two groups: those with moderate-to-high and those with low-to-no anticholinergic use.

After 18 months, both groups had similar attention, memory and executive function scores. In other words, the rate of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) was similar among all patients — regardless of anticholinergic use.

This study was published Jan. 4 in the Journal of Parkinson's Disease.

Information on funding sources and conflicts of interest was not available at the time of publication.

Review Date: 
January 7, 2016
Last Updated:
January 8, 2016