Use of common sleep aids linked to dementia

Once again researchers seemed to have found a connection between over-the counter sleep aids, including Benadryl, and a higher risk of developing dementia.

Scientists at the University of Washington School of Pharmacy in Seattle followed about 3,500 men and women aged 65 and over who had no previous symptoms of dementia in the beginning of the study. Individuals were selected from the Adult Changes in Thought (ACT) study in Group Health in Seattle.

By tracking individuals’ pharmacy computer records, the researchers could determine how frequently participants had taken anticholinergic drugs, which work by blocking the neurotransmitter acetycholine in the brain and body.  The researchers then calculated all the standard daily doses to ascertain the estimated cumulative exposure the participants had to these drugs during the past decade. This data was updated through a a followup with participants seven years later.

Throughout the course of the study, 800 participants developed dementia. The most common types of drugs purchased were antidepressants, first-generation antihistamines, and bladder control medications.

Researchers estimated people had the greatest risk of developing dementia if they took 10 mg per day of the antidepressant doxepin, 4 mg per day of the antihistamine chlorpheniramine, or 5 mg per day of the bladder control medication oxybutynin for more than three years.

There are non-anticholinergic options people can choose in place of doxepin and chlorpheniramine, such as Prozac and Claritin. However, there are not many options for bladder control medications.

The study recommends people should not stop their medication regimen but should contact their doctor and discuss any over-the-counter treatments they're using.

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