You wouldn’t think that taking a little pain pill would cause long term cognitive impairment, but that’s just one of the commonly prescribed (or even OTC) pharmaceutical medications which were studied in a six-year test to see what kind of neurological damage was caused. Unfortunately, the research found that these pharmaceuticals, commonly taken for a variety of common medical conditions including insomnia, allergies, or incontinence, cause long-term damage to the brain. The findings point to a class of drugs called anticholinergics, which block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter.
“We found that taking one anticholinergic significantly increased an individual’s risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and taking two of these drugs doubled this risk. This is very significant in a population – African-Americans – already known to be at high risk for developing cognitive impairment,” said Noll Campbell, PharmD, first author of the study.
The surprising thing is that many of the drugs are commonly used, brands like Benadryl, Dramamine, Excedrin PM, Nytol, Sominex, Tylenol PM, and Unisom are included in the anticholinergic drug list, but so are Paxil, Detrol, Demerol, and Elavil – antidepressant medications. Sure its great if you don’t feel depressed anymore, but not if it is because the drugs are just killing the brain cells that might ordinarily register sadness or anxiety.
You don’t have to take multiple forms of these drugs, either. Just one anticholingeric drug will lead to cognitive impairment. Taking two – doubled the risk. Seniors specifically should avoid these types of drugs since the levels of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are on the rise. According to the University of Michigan, dementia strikes about 50% of people who reach the age of 85. Of those, about 60% go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease. It seems that these drugs may play a role in this development and progression.