Drugs for elderly may cause mental decline

Montpellier: A family of drugs, commonly used to treat diseases in the elderly, may be responsible for causing mental impairment.

Researchers at the Hôpital La Colombière, Montpellier, France say that anticholinergic drugs, used to treat irritable bowel syndrome, urinary incontinence, and Parkinson’s disease, say doctors treating the elderly should be aware of their findings.

They interviewed 372 elderly people without dementia about current and past illnesses and drug use. Cognitive performance was assessed and participants were monitored for up to eight years. The findings are published in the British Medical Journal on line.

About 10% of the people in the sample took anticholinergic drugs over an extended period. Drug users showed poorer cognitive performance compared with non-users and 80% met the criteria for mild cognitive impairment compared with 35% of non-users. However, drug users were not at increased risk of developing dementia.

Even after taking account of other known risk factors for cognitive impairment, anticholinergic drugs remained the most highly significant predictor of this condition, say the authors.

Given the aim of identifying mild cognitive impairment is the early treatment of dementia, people with mild cognitive impairment due to anticholinergic drugs could be in the absurd situation of receiving pro-cholinergic drugs to counteract the effects of anticholinergic agents, say the authors.

They suggest doctors assess current use of anticholinergic drugs in elderly people with mild cognitive impairment before considering treatment for dementia.

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