New research has shown that drugs with strong anticholinergic effects cause memory problems when taken continuously for as few as 60 days. A similar effect was found when the subject took multiple drugs with weak anticholinergic effects for 90 days.
Anticholinergic drugs block the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the nervous system. Drugs which have this effect are sold both over the counter and with a prescription. They are commonly used as sleep aids and to help with bladder leakage. Drugs with anticholinergic effects are commonly prescribed for hypertension, cardiovascular disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The study included 3,690 older adults. It found that taking strong anticholinergics, such as sleeping pills or antihistamines, continuously over 60 days caused memory problems and mild cognitive impairment. Taking multiple, weaker anticholinergics over 90 days had a similar effect.
“We found that a high anticholinergic burden… plus two to three months of continuous exposure… doubled the risk of developing cognitive impairment,” explained study co-author Noll Campbell, Pharm.D. “Millions of older adults are taking sleeping pills or prescription drugs year after year that may be impacting their organisational abilities and memory.”
If you are concerned, it is important to remember to talk to your GP or specialist before changing or stopping your medication.
A list of anticholinergics and their relative burden can be found at the Aging Brain Care website.
You can purchase the full report at the Alzheimer’s and Dementia website.