New study reveals some common medications have links to increased dementia risk

A new study funded by the Alzheimer's Society has revealed that there may be a link between some anticholinergic medicines and an increased risk of dementia.

The findings, published in the British Medical Journal, found that there had been more cases of dementia in people taking a higher dose of these specific medicines, which are usually prescribed.

Anticholinergic medicines are often used by people who are suffering from depression, bladder problems such as urinary incontinence, and Parkinson’s disease.

Research from the study found that those who had used the medicines for a year or more, had a 30% increased risk of developing dementia later in their lives.

Researchers at the University of East Anglia carried out the study, but found that the link was only found in some anticholinergic medicines, and not all. For example, those using the medicines for asthma and gastrointestinal issues were thought not to be at risk.

The extensive study was carried out by looking at the medical records of 40,770 patients with a diagnosis of dementia, aged between 65 – 99. They then compared those patients with 283,933 people who had not been diagnosed with dementia.

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The large study took a look at over 27 millon prescriptions, which, according to the BBC, makes it the biggest study of its kind when exploring the links between anticholinergics and dementia.

However, researchers were keen to state that people using these medicines should definitely not stop taking them, as the benefits of them likely outweigh any risk at the moment.

Dr Ian Maidment from Aston University, stated that patients should not make any changes to their medication, but that if they are concerned, they should visit their GP.

He told the BBC, “Don’t do anything suddenly. Don’t stop taking your medication.

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“As a patient, if you are concerned about it, go and speak to your doctor or your pharmacist. You don’t have to see them urgently.”

Dr James Pickett, of the Alzheimer’s Society, also told the BBC that in comparison to other risk factors, the risk of taking anticholinergic medicines in relation to dementia was “quite small”.

He stated that the exact conditions and health of each of the patients tested was not known, so it is difficult to ascertain the exact link.

“We don’t exactly know within those that are taking these drugs, who is at the increased risk and who isn’t.”

Alzheimer’s Research UK research director Dr Carol Routledge also made the point that the study did not take a look at the cause of the link, and that before proceedings are taken furhter, this should be explored to fully understand the reseach.

She said, “The study didn’t investigate what might cause this link between anticholinergics and dementia risk, and researchers will need to build on these findings in future studies.”

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