Acid Reflux Drugs and Cognitive Impairment: A Consumer's Perspective

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Guide
  • A recent headline that reported on a finding from the Indiana University School of Medicine and Regenstrief Institute said popular acid reflux drugs may lead to cognitive impairment in older adults. The study was published in the August issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.


    After observing more than 1,500 older African-Americans, the researchers found that there was an increased risk of cognitive impairment for those African-Americans over 65 years old who took a certain class of acid blocking medications such as Axid, Pepcid, Tagamet and Zantac.


    But what do these research results mean for you?

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    First, do not discontinue any medication without first speaking to your healthcare team.


    Second, be grateful this research is occurring. Our understanding of the long-term impact of pharmaceuticals is similar to space exploration. There is much more that we don't know, than what we do know.


    Third, understand that each study is specific to the study participants. In other words, researchers are often trying to generalize the research results to a greater population (not just those who participated in the study). But the problem is, sometimes the study participants are just such a unique group of folks that you can't apply the same results anywhere to anyone.


    For example, the researchers of this study looked at the results from more than 1,500 people. From a research perspective, that can be a substantial number. However, compared to more than 300 million people in the United States, that is barely a drop in the proverbial bucket. Besides, the population used in this research design was very narrow - African Americans over 65 years of age.


    In order to understand the implications of the study, one really needs to know if there is anything unique to that particular population that may affect the results. Other questions also need to be answered, such as what is the percentage of individuals with cognitive impairment in that age group who did not use acid blockers? And what biases are present with the research team - do they have any reason to find a problem with this particular medication? (Remember, research can be scientifically sound, and still be biased).


    And finally, if you or someone you are caring for is relying on this class of acid-blocking medication, you need to talk to your doctor about what would happen if you or your loved one was not taking this medication. I know in my own family's case, our son's daily quality of life is improved as a result of this class of medication.


    Will I be talking to his healthcare team about this study? Absolutely. Will we be discontinuing this medication based on this study? Not without more information and in consultation with Ben's healthcare team.


    Just like NASA, we'll continue to watch and learn.

Published On: August 14, 2007