Drugs Found Safe for Dementia Patients

Medication with anticholinergic activity may not lead to impaired cognition with dementia

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

(RxWiki News) Several studies over the summer suggested that common drugs taken by the elderly including antidepressants and antihistamines might cause additional cognitive impairment in those suffering from dementia.

New research suggests that is not the case. In an 18-month study it was found that such medications would not promote a more rapid cognitive decline.

"Continue taking your regular prescribed and over the counter medication."

In an earlier paper published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in June 2011, Dr. Chris Fox, a lead researcher and a doctor with Norwich Medical School at Europe's University of East Anglia, and his team identified an effect that appeared to increase the risk of cognitive impairment and death in older individuals with dementia.

Some prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines seemed to affect the brain by reducing the action of a key neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, called an anticholinergic effect.

Dr. Fox said the recent study found that taking a low dose of one medication with a low degree of anticholinergic activity does not appear to lead to more impaired cognition in those with dementia over the next six or 18 months.

The elderly are at higher risk of exposure to medications with anticholinergic effects because they are more likely to be regular users of prescription drugs. As many as 50 percent of dementia patients in the United States are estimated to take at least one such medication and similar levels were found in the earlier study.

Researchers studied a clinically representative sample of 224 individuals with established Alzheimer's Dementia who were taking low doses of the medications in question including antidepressants. Patients were assessed at both six months and 18 months.

Investigators noted that additional studies are needed, particularly those that consider medication dosage. Though the study was conducted in part to reassure caregivers and families of those with dementia, investigators stressed additional work is needed to determine the impact of medications on frail individuals with no signs of dementia who begin taking drugs and the impact of medications on patients with advanced dementia.

The study was published Sept. 18 in journal Age and Ageing.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 20, 2011
Last Updated:
September 23, 2011