It is not yet fully understood what causes Alzheimer’s disease in most people. Research shows genetic mutations may cause early-onset Alzheimer’s, but late-onset Alzheimer’s is usually due to complex changes in the brain occurring over decades. Other potential causes include your lifestyle, environmental factors and family history. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important to learn as much as we can about the causes and what may put you at higher risk. This way, you can recognize the telltale Alzheimer’s symptoms and signs, which allows you to start treatments that may slow the progression of the disease.
Medications and Alzheimer’s Disease
Regarding the environmental factors we mentioned, recently, studies have linked certain medications to a heightened risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Both over-the-counter and prescription medications can lead to mild cognitive impairment and memory loss, which are key early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Some of the medications that may be tied to an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease include:
The most recent studies regarding medications and Alzheimer’s disease surround particular drugs that have anticholinergic effects. Medications with these anticholinergic agents are known to block a brain chemical called acetylcholine, which is involved in memory and learning. Acetylcholine transmits nerve signals throughout the brain and nervous system, and these medications are usually taken for everything from allergies and sleep disorders to bladder problems and motion sickness. In those age 65 and older, anticholinergics have side effects like confusion, memory loss and worsening mental function.
The problem is that some drugs are classified as anticholinergic, while some simply have anticholinergic properties. Common medications with these properties include drugs like cimetidine (Tagemet), ranitidine (Zantac), celecoxib (Celebrex), diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and even amoxicillin. If you have any concerns about the over-the-counter or prescription medications you’re currently taking, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
A recent study revealed that older adults who regularly use sedatives for insomnia or anxiety may be more at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. These types of medications include popular prescriptions like diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax) and lorazepam (Ativan), all of which are usually taken for a longer term. The study found that people who had been prescribed benzodiazepines for more than three months were 51 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than individuals who had never taken them. When these medications were taken for six months or longer, the risk almost doubled.
However, another study suggests that benzodiazepines actually do not cause Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, this study revealed that benzodiazepines may be prescribed to treat Alzheimer’s symptoms like insomnia, depression and anxiety before an actual diagnosis has been given.
It’s important to note that if you have been prescribed certain medications, even if they may contribute to memory loss, you should not stop taking those prescriptions until you consult with your doctor.
American Senior Communities offers memory care assisted living for those in the early to middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Or, find person-centered memory care through our Auguste’s Cottage. Contact us today to request more information.