Study says anticholinergic drugs damage brain of older adults

By @vitthernandez on
Shannon Risacher
Dr Shannon Risacher, assistant professor of radiology and imaging sciences, and first author of the paper. Illinois University School of Medicine

A new study by the Indiana University School of Medicine advises older adults to avoid anticholinergic drugs for causing cognitive impairment. Those are over-the-counter medicine, such as for cold, allergies, depression, high blood pressure and heart ailments.

The drugs contain anticholinergics which stops the chemical acetycholine from working properly in the nervous system. However, it could provide relief for unpleasant gastrointestinal, respiratory or urinary symptoms.

Benadryl . Reuters listed some of the brands these drugs are sold such as Benadryl for allergies, Paxil for antidepression, Dimetapp for colds, Unisom as sleep aid and Zyprexa as antipsychotic medication.  Benadryl

It is sold as sleep aids and for many chronic ailments such as hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease when prescribed. Reuters listed some of the brands these drugs are sold such as Benadryl for allergies, Paxil for antidepression, Dimetapp for colds, Unisom as sleep aid and Zyprexa as antipsychotic medication.

Researchers point out that the link between anticholinergic drugs and cognitive problems among older adults has been established for at least a decade. They cited the 2013 research at the university’s Aging Research and the Regenstrief Institute which found the strong anticholinergic effect causes cognitive problems if the drug was taken continuously at least 60 days.

The university, for the current study, had 451 participants of whom 60 take at least one medication with medium or high anticholinergic activity. The participants were part of a national research project, the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, and the Indiana Memory and Aging Study.

The researchers had the patients undergo memory and other cognitive tests, positron emission tests, magnetic resonance imaging and brain metabolism test to identify the physical and physiological changes caused by use of anticholinergic medication.

Test results show that patients who took anticholinergic drugs performed worse than older adults who did not take the medication on short-term memory and other tests of executive function such as verbal reasoning, planning and solving problems.

They also exhibited lower levels of glucose metabolism in the overall brain and hippocampus, the brain region linked with memory and identified as affected early by Alzheimer’s disease. But while the findings provide clue on the biological basis of cognitive problems linked with anticholinergic drugs, researchers acknowledge there is a need “to truly understand the mechanisms tomorrow,” says Dr Shannon Risacher, assistant professor of radiology and imaging sciences, and first author of the paper published in JAMA Neurology journal.

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