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Common Meds Linked to Memory, Cognitive Problems in Elderly

Common medications to treat insomnia, anxiety, itching or allergies can have a negative impact on memory or concentration in the elderly, according to a new study.

According to Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, research chair at the Montreal Geriatric University Institute and associate professor of medicine and pharmacy at the University of Montreal, up to 90 percent of people over the age of 65 take at least one prescription medication.

About 18 percent complain of memory problems and are found to have mild cognitive deficits, says the researcher, who suggests there may be a link between the two.

Tannenbaum recently led a team of international researchers to investigate which medications are most likely to affect amnestic (memory) or non-amnestic (attention, concentration, performance) brain functions.

After analyzing the results from 162 experiments on medications with potential to bind to cholinergic, histamine, GABAergic or opioid receptors in the brain, the researchers concluded that the occasional use of several medications can cause amnestic or non-amnestic deficits, Tannenbaum reported. She noted that this potential cause is often overlooked in people who are otherwise in good health.

The 68 trials on benzodiazepines — often used to treat anxiety and insomnia — that were analyzed showed that these drugs consistently lead to impairments in memory and concentration, with a clear dose-response relationship, she said. The 12 tests on antihistamines and the 15 tests on tricyclic antidepressants showed deficits in attention and information processing, she added.

Tannenbaum said her findings support a recommendation issued last spring by the American Geriatrics Society that sleeping pills, first-generation antihistamines and tricyclic antidepressants should be avoided at all costs in seniors.

“Seniors can play an important role in reducing the risks associated with these medications,” she said.

“Patients need this information so that they are more comfortable talking to their doctors and pharmacists about safer pharmacological or non-pharmacological treatment options.”

She also noted that each case should be addressed on an individual basis.

“Despite the known risks, it may be better for some patients to continue their medication instead of having to live with intolerable symptoms,” she explained.

“Each individual has a right to make an informed choice based on preference and a thorough understanding of the effects the medications may have on their memory and function.”

Source: University of Montreal

Common Meds Linked to Memory, Cognitive Problems in Elderly

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Common Meds Linked to Memory, Cognitive Problems in Elderly. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 8 Nov 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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