Could Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids Raise Dementia Risk?

A new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine finds a strong link between high dosage use of anticholinergic drugs and risk of dementia in seniors. Several over-the-counter sleep aids and the antihistamine Benadryl are anticholinergics.



Shelly Gray, a professor at the University of Washington School of Pharmacy, and her team tracked about 3,500 seniors who exhibited no dementia symptoms at the beginning of the trial. They used digital records from pharmacies to determine the participants’ usage of anticholinergic drugs. By the end of the study, 800 participants had developed dementia.



The study corroborated earlier evidence that showed a link between anticholinergic use and dementia risk. Moreover, it demonstrated that higher cumulative dosages lead to higher prevalence of dementia. It is the first study to demonstrate the effect of higher dosages. It is also the first research to show that the effects of anticholinergics can last long after patients stop taking them.



Professor Gray advises against stopping a therapy regimen based on her study’s results. However, she recommended that people consult their doctors about non-prescription medication usage.



If anticholinergics prove necessary, Gray says that doctors “should use the lowest effective dose, monitor the therapy regularly to ensure it’s working, and stop the therapy if it’s ineffective.”



If you would like to learn more about dementia research, check out the Brain Matters blog, and consider joining one of our clinical research studies.






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