Sleep, Anxiety Meds Linked to Dementia

Dementia risk was higher for people who had taken certain sleep or anxiety drugs

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs commonly used to treat sleep problems and anxiety. New research suggests that elderly people taking these drugs may be at higher risk for dementia.

In a recent study, elderly people who started taking one of these sleep or anxiety drugs were more likely to develop dementia. However, this study cannot say if the drug caused the higher risk.

It may be that the disorders needing these types of drugs are the part of the higher risk.

"Talk to your doctor about sleep or anxiety treatments."

Benzodiazepines are used to treat many types of issues like muscle spasms, anxiety, seizures and sleep problems.

Some commonly used benzodiazepines are Valium (diazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam) and Ativan (lorazepam).

Researchers in France, led by Sophie Billioti de Gage, PhD student at Université Bordeaux Segalen, looked to see if using these types of medications was related to dementia.

They followed 1063 elderly people for up to 15 years. They met with each person every two or three years to find out about medication use. A neurologist tested them for dementia.

None of the people were taking any of these medications at the beginning of the study.

A total of 253 people developed dementia during the study.

They found that people who started taking a benzodiazepine within the first three years of the study were 1.6 times more likely to develop dementia.

This is about a 50 percent increase in risk compared to people who did not start taking one of these drugs.

People who started taking one of these drugs were also more likely to have depression, have less years in school and use blood pressure medications.

The researchers reported that the higher risk with using benzodiazepines was not changed when they accounted for depression and blood pressure problems, which are known risk factors for dementia.

This study did not track the length of time these drugs were used or what doses were taken.

This study cannot say that these types of drugs caused higher rates of dementia - only that they are related in some way.

Other recent reports have linked sleep disruptions to dementia, so it is not clear if it is the sleep disruptions or the medications used to treat them that might be upping the risk of dementia.

Benzodiazepines are usually used for short periods of time. Long-term use can result in dependence or abuse of these drugs.

Some side effects can be sedation, memory loss when used long term, and irritability. Most problems with memory while taking benzodiazepines go away after a person stops taking them.

This study was published September 27 in the British Medical Journal. Funding information was not available on the journal website.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 4, 2012
Last Updated:
October 5, 2012