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Study Finds Common Medications Cause Cognitive Impairment

A study finds common medications cause cognitive impairment of human brains as people age.  The Indiana University School of Medicine, the Regenstrief Insititute, and Wishard Health Services researched the impact of medications frequently used to treat insomnia, allergies, or incontinence.  The study found that the drugs caused long term cognitive impairment of brain function in older African Americans, though research suggests this effect is not race specific.

The team studied a group of 1,252 Afican Americans over the age of 70 for 6 years.  The team monitered congitive function and tracked over the counter and prescription medication use.  Noll Campbell, clinical pharmacist with Wishard Health Services, found that "taking one anticholinergic significantly increased an individuals risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and taking two of these drugs doubled this risk.  This is very significant in a population - African -Americans- already known to be at high risk for developing cognitive impairment....Simply put, we have confirmed that anticholinergics, something as seemingly benign as a medication for inability to get a good night's sleep or for motion sickness, can cause or worsen cognitive impairment, specifically long-term mild cognitive impairment which involves gradual memory loss."  Dr. Campbell also furthered that "finding of a link between anticholinergics and long term mild cognitive impairment complements our previous work which confimed a link between anticholinergics and delirium, which is a sudden onset cognitive impairment."

Malaz Boustani, MD at the IU School of Medicine, Regenstrief Investigator, and IU Center for Aging Research Scientist, maintains Campbell's conclusion.  Dr. Boustanti reported: "As a geriatician, I tell my Wishard Healthy Aging Brain Center patients not to take these drugs and I encourage all older adults to talk with their physicians about each and every one of the medications they take."  Dr. Boustani also found that "taking anticholinergics is linked with mild cognitive impairment, involving memory loss without functional disability, but not with Alzheimer Disease, gives me hope.  Our research efforts will now focus on whether anticholinergic induced cognitive impairment may be reversible."  Dr. Boustani concluded that "this study offers a new window to change the burden of dementia."

Results of the study were published in Neurology, an American Academy of Neurology Journal, on July 13, 2010. The researchers believe anticholinergics block a specific nervous system neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine. 



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