Higher Dementia Risk Linked to More Use of Common Drugs

A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine links a significantly increased risk for developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, to taking commonly used medications with anticholinergic effects at higher doses or for a longer time. Cumulative Use of Strong Anticholinergic Medications and Incident Dementia tracks nearly 3,500 Group Health seniors participating in the long-running Adult Changes in Thought (ACT), a joint Group Health–University of Washington (UW) study funded by the National Institute on Aging.

The study used more rigorous methods, longer follow-up (more than seven years), and better assessment of medication use via pharmacy records (including substantial nonprescription use, including use of Benedryl) to confirm this previously reported link. It is the first to suggest that dementia risk linked to anticholinergic medications may persist — and may not be reversible even years after people stop taking these drugs.