INDIANAPOLIS A large, long-term study confirms that medications with anticholinergic activity, which include many drugs frequently taken by older adults, cause cognitive impairment. The research is also the first to identify a possible link between these drugs which include over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids and incontinence treatments and risk of death.
The two-year study of the impact of these medications on 13,000 men and women aged 65 and older is part of the Medical Research Council (UK) Cognitive Function and Ageing Studies (CFAS), a large UK-based longitudinal multi-center study initiative looking at health and cognitive function in older adults. Results of the study of anticholinergics appear June 24, 2011 in an advanced online publication of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Anticholinergics affect the brain by blocking acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter. Over-the-counter products containing diphenhydramine, sold under various brand names such as Benadryl, Dramamine, Excedrin PM, Nytol, Sominex, Tylenol PM, and Unisom, have anticolinergic activity. Other anticholinergic drugs, such as Paxil, Detrol, Demerol and Elavil are available by prescription.
"Our findings make it clear that clinicians need to review the cumulative anticholinergic burden in people presenting with cognitive impairment to determine if the drugs are causing decline in mental status," said co-author Malaz Boustani, M.D., Regenstrief Institute investigator, Indiana University School of Medicine associate professor of medicine, and research scientist with the IU Center for Aging Research.
"Physicians should review with older patients all the over-the-counter and prescription drugs they are taking to determine exposure," said Dr. Boustani a geriatrician who sees patients at Wishard Health Services' Healthy Aging Brain Center in Indianapolis.
The researchers, led by Chris Fox, M.D., of the Unive
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Indiana University School of Medicine