Anticholinergic Drugs like Benadryl may be Linked to an Increased Risk of Dementia

What is the Problem?

There is growing evidence that anticholinergic medications may be linked to the development of dementia.  In the Journal of American Medical Association a recent study was published that examined possible links between these medications and dementia.  

Antihistamines, tricyclic antidepressants and bladder control medications are the main classes of anticholinergic medications.  The recent study, which took place at the University of Washington, examined over the counter and prescription medications.  

What are Anticholinergic Medications?

Anticholinergic medications block the function of acetylcholine in the body.  Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter.  It functions to transmit messages throughout the nervous system.  In the body, it communicates with muscles and stimulates contractions.  In the brain, acetylcholine is associating with learning and memory.  

There is a natural decrease in the production of acetylcholine associated with aging.  Adding medications that also limit acetylcholine can have a strong negative impact on brain function and memory.  In fact, the main side effects associated with these medications include short term memory loss, difficulty with concentration and drowsiness.  

What was the Study's Conclusion?

The study which examined 3434 people over the course of 10 years concluded that there was a definite link between long term anticholinergic medication use and the development of dementia.   Taking an anticholinergic for the equivalent of three years or more was associated with a 54% higher dementia risk than taking the same dose for three months or less.

What can you do?

Geriatrician Malaz Boustani of the Indiana University School of Medicine developed the anticholinergic cognitive burden scale, which compares anticholinergic drugs according to the intensity of their effects on the mind. Click here for a link to the scale.  It is best to avoid drugs with a higher score.  

Also consider using natural therapies as a way to avoid use of these drugs.  Chinese medicine and acupuncture can be used as a drug free option for many of the conditions associated with anticholinergic medications.