PTSD Drugs May Hike Risk for Dementia in Vets

Research has shown that veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are at greater risk for developing dementia. Some of this risk may come from other comorbid conditions that often go along with PTSD such as traumatic brain injury, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, among others.

But until now, researchers were unsure whether the medications frequently prescribed for PTSD or some of these other conditions contribute to this risk.

In a new study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers discovered that taking certain medications significantly increased veterans’ risks for developing dementia, whether or not they had PTSD, compared to those who didn’t take such drugs.

Medications that significantly increased dementia risk included selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), novel antidepressants, and atypical antipsychotics. Furthermore, veterans who were taking a combination of novel antidepressants, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and benzodiazepines were also more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from 3,139,780 veterans aged 56 and older. At the beginning of the research, in 2003, the veterans were receiving healthcare from a Veterans Health Administration facility. Almost all the veterans were male and 82 percent were white.

Of all the veterans participating in the study, 5.4 percent had been diagnosed with PTSD. As the researchers looked at the data over the study’s nine-year follow-up period, they were able to see went on to develop dementia.

They found that taking certain antidepressants, tranquilizers, sedatives, or antipsychotic medications significantly increased veterans’ risks for developing dementia compared to the veterans who didn’t take such medications.

Medications that significantly increased dementia risk included SSRIs, novel antidepressants, and atypical antipsychotics. In fact, the increase in the risk of dementia for veterans taking the drugs was the same whether or not they were diagnosed with PTSD.

Furthermore, those who were taking three classes of medications were also more likely to be diagnosed with dementia whether or not they had PTSD. These medicines included novel antidepressants, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and benzodiazepines. The researchers suggest that an interaction among these psychoactive drugs could potentially affect how PTSD impacts a person’s risk for developing dementia.

The researchers say more studies are needed to learn more about PTSD and psychoactive drugs, including dosage, how long to take the medications, and which people could most benefit from them.

Dementia is a chronic disease characterized by impaired memory and reasoning as well as changes in personality. It is a leading cause of serious illness, disability, and death and often requires care in a nursing home or other long-term care facility.

Source: American Geriatrics Society