Dementia: The common over-the-counter drug linked to a 54% increased risk of brain decline

Dementia: Dr Sara on benefits of being in nature

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Dementia is characterised by the gradual loss of mental agility, which can alter the lives of both sufferers and their families. The risk of developing the disease rises sharply with age, which is why countries with older populations have higher rates of dementia. One body of research suggested that a common over-the-counter pill may increase the risk of brain decline by 54 percent.

Evidence is growing that the risk of age-specific dementia could be averted by changing lifestyle.

One body of research suggests that preventing dementia may require caution when taking some pharmaceutical drugs.

One study, led by the University of Washington’s School of Pharmacy, highlighted a link between anticholinergic drugs and dementia risk after tracking the habits of nearly 3,500 men and women.

Using medical records, the researchers were able to determine all drugs, both description and over-the-counter, taken by each of the participants for the 10 years prior to the launch of the study.

READ MORE: Dementia: The ‘afternoon snack’ that may increase your risk of Alzheimer’s – study warning

All participants had their health tracked over a period of seven years, and a total of 800 participants went on to develop dementia.

After examining the use of anticholinergic drugs, researchers found participants who took the drug were more likely to develop dementia than their counterparts.

What’s more, the risk of dementia rose in line with the cumulative dose.

The team found that taking an anticholinergic drug for around three years was associated with a 54 percent greater dementia risk, compared to taking the same dose for three months or less.

While the observational study is one of many to observe an association between anticholinergic drugs and dementia, it is unable to establish a causal relationship.

The drug works by blocking acetylcholine, a chemical in the brain involved in learning and memory.

The substance works by transmitting messages in the nervous system and stimulating muscle contractions.

While it remains unclear whether the drug directly causes dementia, it has previously been established that it can cause confusion and increase fall risk in older people, according to Harvard Health.

According to Age UK: “[Anticholinergic drugs] include antihistamines, benzodiazepines, some antidepressants, barbiturates and muscle relaxants.

“Examples of conditions that anticholinergics are used for are asthma and COPD incontinence, insomnia, depression, dizziness, some allergies including hay fever, and peptic ulcers and diverticulitis.”

How to lower dementia risk

Numerous lifestyle habits have been shown to lower the risk of dementia, but following a brain-healthy diet, which typically comprises fish, oils, and vegetables, is considered essential.

The Mediterranean-style diet, for example, encompasses all the critical components needed to protect the brain.

Research has shown that people who follow these diets perform better in cognitive tests, compared to those who follow a reduced-fat diet.

Researchers have been unable to determine which components of the diet, exactly, make it good for the brain.

Other means of lowering the risk of dementia include getting the right amount of sleep, which ranges between six to eight hours.

Finally, staying mentally and socially active, and limiting your intake of alcohol could all help lower the risk of cognitive decline.

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