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Alzheimer’s in the Elderly Linked to Anxiety/Sleep Drugs
- Updated: September 10, 2014
In a new study, researchers discovered that a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines used to reduce symptoms of anxiety and improve sleep also produces risk of Alzheimer’s disease in older people. In fact, information gathered from this study shows that these medications increase risk by as much as 50%.
Benzodiazepines are marketed under a variety of names to include Klonopin, Xanax, Ativan, and Xanax, which are commonly used to treat anxiety, agitation, and insomnia. However, all of these symptoms are also signs of impending Alzheimer’s in the aging population.
As part of this study, researchers worked to understand how benzodiazepines used to treat symptoms of dementia actually cause or hasten the onset of Alzheimer’s. The pattern of these drugs were compared in a study made up of almost 1,796 elderly people who had a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s to a group of 7,184 older people without a diagnosis.
Conducted by Canadian and French researchers, the study was recently published in the journal BMJ. The findings show that while it cannot be said with 100% certainty that benzodiazepines are the cause of Alzheimer’s in the elderly, it does raise suspicion among researchers, scientists, and medical professionals.
Of the participants involved with the study, more than 66 lived independently in Quebec, Canada. These individuals took either low-dose benzodiazepines or higher doses but for a short period of time or very infrequently. Among these participants, risk of Alzheimer’s did not increase up to five years after the medication was first prescribed. However, for the participants who took long-acting or higher doses of benzodiazepines, or took the medication for several months, the outcome was quite different.
Certain benzodiazepines are considered as short-acting medications to help with symptoms of anxiety to include Seresta, Valium, Ativan, and Xanax while the longer-acting drugs prescribed for insomnia are Versed, Mogadon, Klonopin, and Dalmane. These medications were used in the new study whereas some of the more atypical drugs to include Lunesta, Ambien, and Sonata, were not.
The study’s authors used a special index to gauge the intensity of medication use and at the end of five years, found risk of Alzheimer’s disease rose steadily. The participants who took the equivalent of daily doses up to six months during those five years had a risk increase of 32% compared to those who did not. Most alarming, the participants who took the cumulative equivalent of a full daily dose for over six months had an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 84%.
In addition to this new study, other studies have been conducted that prove frequent or regular use of benzodiazepines decreases memory and mental performance. There are other studies that suggest brain receptors in people who regularly use these drugs become less active. With less activity, there is noted decline in cognitive ability.
According to Dr. Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the study indicates a distinct connection between benzodiazepines and Alzheimer’s disease although the underlying reason has not yet been identified. Researchers associated with the study agree that it is crucial that medical professionals encourage patients to consider both benefits and risks linked to benzodiazepines, especially in the elderly.