A commonly used type of prescription drug is linked to an almost 50 percent higher chance of developing dementia.
Anticholinergics used to treat people with epilepsy, Parkinson's, depression and incontinence can be associated with brain disorder.
Researchers examined more than 280,000 people in the UK to find out how the drugs affected the risk of dementia.
They discovered that the disorder that robs memory is more common in people who have been prescribed this type of medication, and argues that damage they cause to nerve cells could be to blame.
Although they said that anticholinergic drugs & # 39; with caution & # 39; should be prescribed to middle and older people, they also warned patients not to stop taking their medication.
But if the link turned out to be a direct cause, the pills could be responsible for as many as one in 10 dementia cases, the expert added.
The Nottingham researchers said that people taking anticholinergics may have a 49 percent higher risk of developing dementia, and that the commonly prescribed pills may even be responsible for as much as 10% of brain diseases (stock image)
Scientists from the University of Nottingham looked at decades of prescription and diagnostic data for 284,343 over 55-year-olds registered with UK GPs.
Nearly 59,000 of the people studied were diagnosed with dementia at some point.
Within the 11 years prior to their dementia diagnosis, 56.6 percent of the patients (33,253) were prescribed anticholinergic drugs.
The researchers said that the chances of someone developing dementia increased by 49 percent if they were given the medication within 11 years of their diagnosis.
And they added that the associations seemed to be stronger in people who were diagnosed with dementia before they were 80, suggesting that the drugs played a greater role for them.
The largest increases were seen in those who took antidepressants, anti-Parkinsonian medicines, antipsychotics, anti-epileptics and medicines used to control bladder incontinence.
Professor Tom Dening said: “This study provides further evidence that doctors should be careful when prescribing certain drugs that have anticholinergic properties.
& # 39; However, it is important that patients taking such drugs do not just stop abruptly, as this can be much more harmful.
& # 39; If patients are concerned, they should consult with their physician about the pros and cons of the treatment they receive. & # 39;
Professor Dening and his colleagues made it clear that their paper only pointed to a link between prescriptions and the speed of dementia – not a direct cause.
WHAT IS DEMENTIA?
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a series of progressive neurological disorders, that is, disorders affecting the brain.
There are many different forms of dementia, of which Alzheimer's is the most common.
Some people may have a combination of forms of dementia.
Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience his dementia in his own unique way.
Dementia is a global concern, but it is most often seen in richer countries, where people are likely to grow old.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
The Alzheimer's & # 39; s Society reports that today more than 850,000 people with dementia live in the UK, more than 500,000 of whom have Alzheimer's.
It is estimated that the number of people with dementia in the UK will increase to more than 1 million in 2025.
In the US, it is estimated that there are 5.5 million people with Alzheimer's disease. A comparable percentage increase is expected in the coming years.
As the age of a person increases, so does the risk of developing dementia.
The diagnosis rates are improving, but many people with dementia are thought to have not yet been diagnosed.
IS THERE A CURE?
There is currently no cure for dementia.
But new drugs can slow progression and the sooner it is seen, the more effective the treatments are.
Source: Dementia UK
They said people were given the drugs to treat early symptoms of the brain-destroying state, but they also suggested ways the drugs could activate it.
One of the main reasons, they said, was that the drugs work by relaxing muscles by blocking nerve signals, which can lead to degeneration of the crucial nerve cells in the brain.
Dementia also develops as a result of brain breakdown – this is usually Alzheimer's disease that causes a build-up that blocks electrical signals.
The scientists added that changes in blood flow to the brain can also damage it in a way that can cause dementia, or that the drugs can cause inflammation in the brain.
The association that the researchers found was so strong, they said, that if the drugs were found to cause immediate dementia, they could be responsible for 10 percent of the cases.
This would be roughly equivalent to 20,000 of the 209,000 new cases each year – more than due to high blood pressure, diabetes or inactivity, but less than smoking.
Dr. James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said the charity had already found this link, but it was difficult to prove a causal link.
& # 39; Based on this information, we cannot rule out the possibility that the diseases that cause dementia already started in the brain of the individuals involved before they started taking these drugs, & # 39; he said.
& # 39; Our ongoing research at the University of East Anglia is investigating whether anticholinergic bladder drugs could increase the risk by following people while they are taking the drug.
& # 39; This research will tell us if these drugs can cause dementia and how they can do it.
# According to current doctors guidelines, anticholinergics should be avoided for frail elderly because of their memory and thinking impact, but doctors should consider these new findings for all middle-aged and older people, as long-term use increases the risk of dementia can increase. & # 39;
Other experts in the field agreed that any definitive evidence of the drugs that cause dementia was still elusive.
The study was & # 39; well done & # 39; and & # 39; robust & # 39; and said it made useful findings that contributed to existing work on dementia.
Professor Clive Ballard, an age-related disease specialist at the University of Exeter's medical faculty, added: & # 39; This is a very important finding with huge and very practical implications that could improve brain health.
& # 39; We must make two important comments. First, anticholinergics can reduce cognition, but it is more difficult to determine whether this is a potentially reversible problem or a true progressive cognitive decline.
& # 39; Second, some of these drugs may be prescribed earlier to people with emerging problems such as psychiatric symptoms and urinary incontinence – which may reflect those who are already at an increased risk of cognitive decline.
& # 39; Despite these warnings, anticholinergics are clearly damaging to cognitive health – and these important implications for prescribing and clinical practice can be taken into account. & # 39;
The research by the Nottingham team was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
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