Elderly Dementia Linked to Anxiety, Insomnia Drugs

Elderly patients taking benzodiazepines or other similar anxiety or insomnia drugs are more likely to develop symptoms of dementia than those who avoid the drugs entirely.

According to a WebMD.com report on a new study appearing in the journal, British Medical Journal, among a group of more than 1,000 patients in two French studies – with more than 960 who were not taking benzodiazepines – 32 percent who had taken the drugs for any period of time developed memory loss and other signs of dementia. This compares to just 23 percent of people who avoided benzodiazepines and other like drugs and still developed signs of dementia.

Study participants were followed for 15 years and patients in it had taken or not taken benzodiazepines for varying periods of time. The prescription drugs identified in the study were Ambien, Halcion, Klonopin, Restoril, Valium, and Xanax.

And even when researchers accounted for other factors that commonly lead to symptoms of dementia such as age, living arrangements, overall health, and bouts of depression, people taking benzodiazepines and other sleep inducers were more than 60 percent more likely to develop dementia-like symptoms than those who hadn’t taken any of these drugs.

This study stops short of linking use of these drugs to dementia but each study used for the research provided enough information to draw an association between taking them and developing dementia. The study appearing in BMJ even goes so far to note that short-term, temporary use of these drugs likely won’t result in a patient developing dementia but these drugs are rarely taken with that frequency.

Benzodiazepines and prescription sleep drugs are not meant to be taken over long periods of time but some people have likely been taking them for years, basically making it a habitual drug rather than one taken for a specific reason.

This study adds to a confusing field of research on the potential impact of benzodiazepine drugs. Some previous studies have found that people taking them were actually less likely to develop symptoms of dementia while other studies have been consistent with this most recent study, that long-term use of the drugs was likely to impair brain function, especially among elderly patients.

The most recent study – involving the two long-term French pools of participants – looked at results over a longer period of time, 15 years, than the previous studies which found there to be some benefit to mental health for those taking benzodiazepines. Often times, benzodiazepines are prescribed in the short term to curb initial symptoms of dementia like anxiety or agitation

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