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Anticholinergics linked to increased dementia risk

Monday 30th April 2018
Drugs commonly prescribed to millions of patients with depression and bladder problems may increase the risk of dementia, new research indicates. Image: Milkos via iStock
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Anticholinergics, which are currently prescribed to at least 1.5 million people in the UK, have been linked with an increased risk of dementia.

These drugs are prescribed to patients suffering from a variety of illnesses, including depression, bladder problems and Parkinson's disease, but could actually be raising their risk of other degenerative conditions.

To make this discovery, scientists at the University of East Anglia examined the records of 40,770 65 to 99-year-olds diagnosed with dementia between 2006 and 2015, comparing their medical histories to those of 283,933 individuals who were deemed to be healthy.

At the same time, the details of more than 27 million prescriptions were analysed, and a potential link between anticholinergic drugs and increased dementia risk was identified.

This type of medication works by blocking acetylcholine, which transports signals across the nervous system, meaning these drugs can be effective for a range of conditions.

Interestingly, no increased dementia risk was recorded among patients taking this medication for hay fever, travel sickness or stomach cramps; the heightened risk was only associated with those prescribed large dosages for particular conditions.

Explaining why this may be the case, experts said the findings relied on the assumption that all patients took their medication correctly, which is only believed to be the case for around half of individuals.

What's more, Rob Howard, a professor of old age psychiatry at University College London, said: "It is possible that use of some of these drugs may have actually been to treat the very earliest symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, which can be associated with low mood and lower urinary tract infections, many years before the development of dementia."

However, speaking to BBC News, Dr James Pickett, the Alzheimer's Society's head of research, urged concerned patients not to simply stop taking their medication, but to speak to their GP about their worries first.

Written by James Puckle

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