A recent study from the University of California, San Diego found a class of drugs used for many conditions, including high blood pressure, allergies, colds, and depression is linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline.
The link is particularly strong in people who have genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease or markers of this condition.
These types of drugs are called anticholinergic drugs. They are used for high blood pressure, motion sickness, urinary incontinence, overactive bladder, and Parkinson’s disease.
There are approximately 100 such drugs in widespread use, with some requiring a prescription and many others that may be purchased over the counter.
The study involved 688 people with an average age of 74 who had no problems with thinking and memory skills at the start of the study.
The participants reported if they were taking any anticholinergic drugs three months of the start of the study at least once a week for more than six months.
They took cognitive tests once a year for up to 10 years.
One-third of the participants were taking anticholinergic drugs, with an average of 4.7 anticholinergic drugs taken per person. Metoprolol, atenolol, loratadine, and bupropion were the most common.
The team found that cognitively normal people taking at least one anticholinergic drug were 47% more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to dementia, over the next decade than people who were not taking such drugs.
The study also found that people with biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease in their cerebrospinal fluid who were taking anticholinergic drugs were four times more likely to later develop mild cognitive impairment than people who were not taking the drugs and did not have the biomarkers.
Similarly, people who had genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and took anticholinergic drugs were about 2.5 times as likely to later develop mild cognitive impairment than people without the genetic risk factors and who were not taking the drugs.
The study was conducted by Lisa Delano-Wood et al and published in Neurology.
The findings suggest that reducing the use of anticholinergic drugs before people develop any cognitive problems may be an important way to prevent the negative consequences of these drugs on thinking skills, especially for people who have an elevated risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
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