As we progress into our senior years, it’s common for our cognitive function to decline. Although, arising symptoms of dementia could be extremely worrisome. Common medications could be causing these symptoms, instead of the actual disease itself.
Is it Dementia or Being Overly Medicated?
A senior woman appeared to have severe dementia, largely incoherent and her short-term memory was terrible. None of the questions that the doctors asked could have her focus.
Although, there were suspicions that something else was occurring. The senior woman was taking an array of medications, such as benadryl, other antihistamines, seroquel, and multiple others.
Each of these medications block a chemical messenger in the brain called acetylcholine. It was thought that the cumulative impact could be causing the cognitive difficulties.
Over six months time the woman was taken off the medications and given alternative treatments. Her mental state seemed to recover completely, once scoring 11 out of 30 she was now scoring 28 on the mental state exam.
What Drugs Create Risks for Seniors?
An estimated 1 in 4 older adults take anticholinergic drugs, in which their highly susceptible to negative responses from these medications.
The drugs that might be contributing to older patients’ memory loss or cognitive changes are the anticholinergics.
Here’s what older adults should know about these drugs:
Learning About Anticholinergics
Medications under this category target acetylcholine, an important chemical messenger that dilates blood vessels and regulates muscle contractions. In the brain, acetylcholine plays a key role in attention, concentration, and memory formation.
Medications with strong Anticholinergic properties:
- Antidepressants, such as imipramine
- Antihistamines, such as hydroxine
- Antipsychotics, such as clozapine
- Antispasmodics, such as dicyclomine
- Drugs for urinary incontinence, such as tolterodine
Physicians often attribute anticholinergic symptoms in elderly people to aging or age-related illness rather than the effects of drugs.
Seniors are more susceptible to adverse effects from these medications because their brains process acetylcholine less efficiently. The medications are more likely to cross the blood-brain barrier, taking their bodies longer to break down these drugs.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Anticholinergics?
In the late 1970s, researchers discovered that deficits in an enzyme that synthesizes acetylcholine were present in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Bringing more awareness on not putting older adults, especially those with cognitive dysfunction, on drugs with acetylcholine-blocking effects.
Experts thought that the effects of anticholinergics were short-term and that if older patients stopped taking them everything would go back to normal.
This proved not to be true when researchers saw that anticholinergic drugs could have long-term effects, possibly leading to the death of brain neurons and the accumulation of plaques and tangles associated with neurodegeneration.
What the Findings Discovered?
In late June, this risk was highlighted in a new report in JAMA Internal Medicine that examined more than 284,000 adults age 55 and older in Britain between 2004 and 2016.
The study found that more than half of these subjects had been prescribed at least one of 56 anticholinergic drugs. People who took a daily dose of a strong anticholinergic for three years had a 49% increased risk of dementia.
Take into account that these findings don’t constitute proof that anticholinergic drugs cause dementia, but only prove an association. It appears older adults who take strong anticholinergic medications for one to three years are vulnerable to long-term side effects.
Entrust of DeSoto: A Resident-centric Memory Care Community in Dallas, Texas
Entrust of DeSoto is a memory care community that puts resident well-being at the center of everything we do. We know that each person is unique. That’s why we offer a wide range of services and lifestyle options to nourish the body and create community.
We understand the importance of home cooked meals and nutrition for seniors and this attitude is reflected in our dining experience. If you or a loved one live near Dallas, Texas and need assisted living, contact Entrust of DeSoto today to learn about our 24-hour care and find out how we can help.