As they grow older, many people worry about losing their abilities, memories, and independence to dementia – especially its most common form, Alzheimer’s disease. Since there is no cure for dementia and Alzheimer’s, prevention is crucial to ensure a longer, healthier life.
Though there is no single known cause of Alzheimer’s, risk increases with lifestyle factors like high blood pressure, smoking, alcohol abuse, obesity, lack of exercise, inadequate nutrition, and low levels of cognitive engagement. Some common medications and other substances can make people more vulnerable to developing Alzheimer’s, too. Here’s what you should know about the drugs linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Anticholinergic drugs are a broad class that includes some antidepressants, antipsychotics, and medications for bladder control, irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinson’s, and epilepsy. Even over-the-counter antihistamines like Benadryl and NyQuil have anticholinergic activity.
According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, adults 55 and older were nearly 50% more likely to develop dementia if they took only one daily anticholinergic for three years. Other research has associated anticholinergic medications with brain cell death and poor mental functioning.
Doctors may prescribe benzodiazepines like Valium, Xanax, and Ativan to help their patients manage anxiety, insomnia, panic disorders, and seizures. However, these tranquilizers can also be highly addictive, causing people to become dependent on them after only a few weeks of regular use.
Long-term benzodiazepine use can lead people to develop depression, seizures, and cognitive deficits or memory loss. Older adults are more susceptible to these issues because their bodies metabolize drugs differently.
3. Pain Relievers
Opioids provide essential pain relief for people recovering from injuries or surgeries, but short-term memory loss is a potential adverse side effect. Opioids also have a high potential for addiction and can cause an overdose, especially when combined with other medications. Even people who regularly take over-the-counter pain medications like Advil and Aleve can have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. These NSAIDs may be more dangerous for older adults due to the risk of internal bleeding.
4. Proton Pump Inhibitors
PPIs are a class of drugs that includes Prilosec, Prevacid, and Nexium. Studies have shown these drugs cause a buildup of proteins called amyloid plaques in mouse brains, which is one of the characteristic brain changes seen in Alzheimer’s patients. Long-term PPI use can also affect the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12, which can make people anemic and lead to impaired cognitive function.
5. Sleep Aids
Nicknamed the “Z drugs,” medications like Lunesta and Ambien share similar effects with benzodiazepines, including issues with addiction and withdrawal. They can also cause blackouts – upsetting memory gaps during which people may do things like preparing food or driving a car with no recollection of doing so.
Medicinal and recreational cannabis use has grown significantly in recent decades, as more states continue legalizing this drug. At the federal level, marijuana remains a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, so research on its effects remains limited. However, long-term cannabis use can lead to intellectual deficits such as memory, learning, and attention problems. Marijuana is also addictive.
Safe, Effective Rehab
In addition to adversely affecting cognitive ability, memory, learning, and decision-making, many of the drugs on this list can cause other mental and physical health problems, including a chemical dependency.
Addiction is a disease characterized by compulsive behaviors, thoughtless choices, co-occurring mental illnesses, and withdrawal symptoms when people try to stop taking drugs. At Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers, we provide evidence-based treatment and education that can help you identify the underlying causes of your substance use disorder and pursue a healthier lifestyle. Contact us today to talk with someone who understands.