Over-The-Counter Sleeping Aids Can Increase the Risk of Dementia

This was the conclusion of a study published in the January 26, 2015, edition of JAMA Internal Medicine. Elderly patients with no signs of dementia who were taking allergy and sleep aids such as Benadryl or Nytol, older antidepressants, and bladder medications such as oxybutynin for more than 3 years were found to have an increased risk over the follow-up of about 7 years. Patients using the highest doses showed an increased risk of dementia of 54% compared to no use, and the risk of Alzheimer’s alone was raised by 63%.

There are limitations to this study. These medications may have no significant impact on people under 60. For people who have early but undiagnosed dementia, these drugs probably unmask the symptoms. They do so because they reduce acetylcholine in the brain, and the reduction of that neurotransmitter is an important reason for cognitive symptoms with Alzheimer’s.

The take-away message is to use these drugs sparingly, and older patients may be especially vulnerable.

For more information, see Neurology Today, March 5, 2015.

Jack Florin, MD
Neurologist

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