Drug Effects on Alzheimer’s Patients Reassuring
Researchers have added further detail to their findings on the risks of common drugs for elderly people.
Dr. Chris Fox of the University of East Anglia, UK, and colleagues found that anticholinergic drugs — which block a key neurotransmitter called acetylcholine and include many drugs often taken by older adults — may cause cognitive impairment.
Drugs which have anticholinergic activity range from antidepressants to antihistamines. They include Benadryl, Dramamine, Excedrin PM, Nytol, Sominex, Tylenol PM, and Unisom. Others available only by prescription include Paxil, Detrol, Demerol and Elavil. Older people are more at risk because they tend to be greater users of these drugs.
Now, the research team has looked in detail at these drugs’ effects on people already suffering from dementia. They studied 224 people with established Alzheimer’s disease who were taking low levels of anticholinergic drugs. The majority (71 percent) were women, and their mean age was 81 years.
The participants’ cognitive function was remeasured six and 18 months into the study using the Mini-Mental State Exam, the Severe Impairment Battery (which assesses specific behavioral and cognitive deficits associated with severe dementia), and the cognitive section of the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Battery. Their exposure to anticholinergic drugs also was recorded.
No differences were seen in cognitive functioning for individuals with high or low exposure to anticholinergic drugs at either six or 18 months, once cognitive function at the start was taken into account.
“Medications with anticholinergic effect in patients with Alzheimer’s disease were not found to effect deterioration in cognition,” the researchers reported.
“Our study did not support a continuing effect of these medications on people with Alzheimer’s disease who are established on them.”