Common sleep drugs may increase dementia risk, study finds

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In a study from the University of California San Francisco, scientists found that sleep medications increase the risk of dementia for people who are white.

But the type and quantity of the medication may be factors in explaining the higher risk.

It follows previous work that shows people who are Black have a higher likelihood than people who are white of developing Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia, and that they have different risk factors and disease manifestations.

In the study, the team used data from about 3,000 older adults without dementia, who lived outside of nursing homes in the Health, Aging and Body Composition study.

These people were followed over an average of nine years. Their average age was 74; 58% were white and 42% were Black.

During the study, 20% developed dementia. The team found white participants who “often” or “almost always” took sleep medications had a 79% higher chance of developing dementia compared to those who “never” or “rarely” used them.

Among Black participants—whose consumption of sleep aids was markedly lower—frequent users had a likelihood of developing dementia similar to those who abstained or rarely used the medications.

The researchers found that people who are white, at 7.7%, were three times as likely as people who are Black, at 2.7%, to take sleep medications “often” (five to 15 times a month), or “almost always” (16 times a month to daily).

Whites were almost twice as likely to use benzodiazepines, like Halcion, Dalmane and Restoril, prescribed for chronic insomnia.

People who are white were also 10 times as likely to take trazodone, an antidepressant known by the trade names of Desyrel and Oleptro, which may also be prescribed as a sleep aid.

And they were more than seven times as likely to take “Z-drugs,” such as Ambien, a so-called sedative-hypnotic.

The team says while future studies may offer clarity on the cognitive risks or rewards of sleep medications and the role that race may play, patients with poor sleep should hesitate before considering medications.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and scientists find possible way to delay or reverse Alzheimer’s disease.

For more information on brain health, please see recent studies about Vitamin D deficiency linked to higher dementia risk, and these antioxidants could help reduce dementia risk.

The study was conducted by Yue Leng et al and published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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