Anticholinergics impair our cognitive functions and can promote dementia
Many people take medications, so-called anticholinergics, for all kinds of health complaints, such as colds, allergies and heart diseases. But these drugs don't just have positive effects on our bodies. They can also cause cognitive impairments. Scientists also found a connection with dementia diseases.
Researchers have now found out in an investigation that taking anticholinergics can have negative effects on our health. Medicines from Indiana University School of Medicine tried to better understand the relationships between the drugs and emerging complications. The scientists published their results in the journal "Journal of the American Medical Association" (JAMA).
Anticholinergics affect our nervous system
There are a number of medications that are used widely in today's society to treat diseases such as colds, allergies, depression, high blood pressure and heart diseases. However, experts warn that the use of such drugs can lead to cognitive impairment and support dementia. Indiana University School of Medicine scientists looked for evidence to help them understand this connection.
The list of drugs affected is long. Anticholinergics inhibit a chemical called acetylcholine, which then no longer works properly in our nervous system, the scientists say. Usually, this chemical is involved in controlling body functions. This enables the medication to alleviate, for example, unpleasant gastrointestinal disorders. It can also help with respiratory problems, the doctors explain.
Anticholinergics reduce our brain volume and impair memory
There are many other medications that affect our cognitive performance, such as the allergy medication Benadryl, the antidepressant Paxil and the antipsychotic Zyprexa, the cold medication Dimetapp and the sleeping pill Unisom, the authors explain. In the new study, the researchers examined the brain scans and cognitive test results of 451 elderly subjects. None of the test subjects suffered from cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer's or dementia. However, when the patients used anticholinergics, there was less glucose processing in the brain, an indicator of the activity of our brain, the experts say.
The affected area of the brain is associated with the storage of memories and, moreover, it is affected relatively early by an occurring Alzheimer's disease. In addition, patients who used this medication show reduced brain volume in regions associated with cognitive function. Such subjects achieved lower results in tests aimed at memory.
Anticholinergics can lead to cognitive problems later in life
The use of anticholinergics has medical benefits that can outweigh cognitive risks, explains lead author Dr. Shannon Risacher from Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. However, if alternative therapies are available that enable effective treatment of these diseases, doctors and patients could avoid the use of anticholinergics, the doctor says. There is growing evidence that anticholinergics can lead to cognitive problems later in life. The results should encourage doctors and patients to discuss these drugs. The use of such drugs should be limited if there are alternatives that do not require cognitive decline, the author adds.
Problem patients should prefer alternative treatments
Since the pathology has determined that a negative effect of anticholinergics on cognitive function only increases over the years, patients can certainly benefit from short-term use of the drugs, say the doctors. But in the long run, cognitive damage should not be ignored. The situation is different, of course, if the patient's life depends on long-term use of the medication, then later cognitive risks would have to be neglected, the experts explain. However, healthier patients who have had family history of dementia in the past should be extra careful and choose alternative treatments, the researchers warn. (as)