Nearly 100 common drugs linked to increased risk of thinking and memory problems

MINNEAPOLIS — A new study is sounding the alarm for patients taking dozens of common prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Researchers find that taking a particular class of drug, anticholinergics, increases the risk of developing mild thinking and memory problems.

The study shows there are about 100 of these types of drugs in widespread use. These medications treat everything from colds to high blood pressure to depression.

The research, published in the journal Neurology, finds that people with genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease are particularly susceptible to these issues. Overall, scientists reveal patients with no cognitive issues are 47 percent more likely to develop a mental impairment if they’re taking at least one anticholinergic drug.

“Our findings suggest that reducing the use of anticholinergic drugs before people develop any cognitive problems may be an important way to prevent the negative consequences of these drugs on thinking skills, especially for people who have an elevated risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” study author Lisa Delano-Wood from the University of California, San Diego says in a press release.

How common are anticholinergics?

Researchers say these drugs have a wide range of uses, treating both common health issues and serious diseases. Patients take them for conditions like motion sickness, urinary incontinence, and overactive bladders. Anticholinergics are also prescribed to manage Parkinson’s disease and high blood pressure.

Metoprolol, atenolol, loratadine, and bupropion are among the most common medications in the anticholinergic drug class.

The study examined 688 people with an average age of 74. Researchers report none of the participants had any trouble with thinking or memory at the start of the decade-long review.

Study authors also find that people on anticholinergics are usually taking several of these drugs at once. Overall, one-third of the participants were found to be taking some sort of anticholinergic medication and the average patient was using four to five anticholinergic drugs.

Concerning links to Alzheimer’s disease

The report looks at cognitive tests taken by the group once a year throughout the 10 years. Out of the 230 taking anticholinergic drugs, 117 (51 percent) went on to develop mild cognitive impairments. Among those participants not taking these drugs, only 42 percent would eventually have these problems.

After adjusting for depression, the number of medications taken, and each patient’s history of cardiac problems, study authors arrived at their 47-percent risk determination. They add that higher exposure to anticholinergics increase this risk factor.

When studying human biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease, an even greater chance of having cognitive problems emerges. Researchers say people with risk factors for Alzheimer’s in their cerebrospinal fluid are four times more likely to be affected by anticholinergic drugs.

Those with other genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s are 2.5 times more likely to develop mild cognitive impairments.

Dosing may be tied to memory problems

Delano-Wood and her team also say the majority of patients are likely taking much higher doses than may be needed for older adults. In fact, the report shows 57 percent take twice the minimum recommended dosage and 18 percent take four times that amount.

“This is of course concerning and is a potential area for improvement that could possibly lead to a reduction in cases of mild cognitive impairment,” says Delano-Wood.

The study notes that the results are limited by the patient sample size and the fact that only a third are taking anticholinergic drugs. Researchers say other studies find the number of older adults taking anticholinergics is actually near 70 percent.

While the results point to possible issues with these medications, study authors recommend patients speak with their doctor or pharmacist before suddenly stopping use of their prescriptions.

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  1. The difference between taking anticholinergic drugs-51% that can develope mild cognitive impairment & 42% not taking these medications, that went on to develop problems, isn’t that big of a difference, really… I do take several of them, and have for quite a while, and am concerned, especially with my grandfather, dying of Alzheimer’s… But I don’t think the numbers are that worrisome, from the medical standpoint/testing, and info that we have so far…

  2. Thanks for the report on association between anticholinergics and thinking problem, memory loss plus alzheimer’s.
    But, am the grouping of anticholinergic medications has some ambiguity which may requires author(s) to provide clarification. In the example of anticholinergics you have included Metoprolol and Atenolol which are antagonist of adrenaline or noradrenaline a completely different neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. So if possible kindly rephrase or provide the logic behind

  3. Beta blockers are not anticholinergics. Anticholinergics are the antidote for beta blocker overdose. Either this study or this article had some serious flaws

  4. It would have been helpful, if the list of medications was made available. This article is written with no information to help the public.

  5. This is irresponsible reporting aimed at creating mass concern by waving a red flag without providing the reader with the whole story. Responsible journalism would have either listed the 100 drugs or provided a reference to where the reader could find the list. In this way the reaader would be able to consult with their doctor about the study and the drugs they were taking if they were on the list.

  6. I am only 44 and already am having these issues. I take metprolol for my heart, loretidine for allergies. My memory is terrible. My pronunciations are bad. I look at every day things and cant think of the words.

  7. atropine (Atropen)
    belladonna alkaloids
    benztropine mesylate (Cogentin)
    cyclopentolate (Cyclogyl)
    darifenacin (Enablex)
    fesoterodine (Toviaz)
    flavoxate (Urispas)
    homatropine hydrobromide
    hyoscyamine (Levsinex)
    ipratropium (Atrovent)
    oxybutynin (Ditropan XL)
    propantheline (Pro-banthine)
    solifenacin (VESIcare)
    tiotropium (Spiriva)
    tolterodine (Detrol)

  8. Is there a published list of these 100 or so common medications that are this class of drugs? Fo the common person, it would be nice to know if we are taking more than one of these types of medications.

  9. What’s the point of writing an article like this if you don’t include a link to the actual list of drugs that were cited? My first thought in reading this is I wonder if any of the drugs I take are on the list. There is no link to help me answer that question. For that reason, I think the article is pretty worthless.

  10. Wow….what an incitefull fact filled article…..the only thing that could possible make it better is to actual list the 100 common drugs…..or did you forget them.

  11. So, the way I read the study results of developing mild cognitive impairment in people taking anticholinergics, adjusted for lack of depression, smaller doses…, that there is a 47% risk. And that folks not taking anticholinergics have a 42% risk of developing mild cognitive impairment. A difference of only 5 percentage points, not very risky. Please correct me if that’s wrong. I take one daily at low dose, although I wish my dr would increase it, actually to improve my cognitive function. Without it, I have severe problems from very excessive sleep, balance issues, thinking, talking, walking, being very light headed and on and on. But with the anticholinergic I can actually get up, walk straight, think coherently, and on and on, basically function. So I guess I should weigh having life now or never. Any advice given is very welcomed.

  12. Our adult son with brain trauma syndrome, and short-term memory loss was prescribed an anticholinergic drug for anxiety. His reaction to a fairly low dose of this medication caused him to become agitated & combative between hours & hours of thrashing in his sleep. He was seemingly unaware of his behavior when he was awake. We are concerned he might lose his life should he continue on this medication – prescribed for anxiety.

  13. This article does not name medications other than two, but then goes on to say that there are many anticholinergic medications that cause these issues. Without a list of affecting medications, this article is absolutely useless to the common person.

  14. 1000 words and specific names of the meds in question…not listed
    Who, What, When,Where, Why….this writer needs to get his last
    check Friday and clean out his desk

  15. Such a poorly researched article.
    “Metoprolol, atenolol, loratadine, and bupropion are among the most common medications in the anticholinergic drug class.”
    None of these are anticholinergics. Metoprolol and atenolol are beta blockers that work in the adrenergic nervous system. Loratadine is an antihistamine which does have anticholinergic like side effects. Bupropion is an antidepressant which also has anticholinergic side effects.

    Atropine is the prototypical anticholinergic drug.

    Consult a pharmacist before writing about drugs. You’re results will be more plausible.

  16. it would be helpful if the actual drugs were named, as being an average person I know no more now as I did when reading the article. … but now you have instilled fear.

  17. Living with painful psoriatic arthritis for over 30 years I can relate to this article. Difficult finding which medicine has worst side effects. Frustrating part of life taking medicine that helps and later noticing severe headaches, memory problems. Basically my life is being a test subject for medicines. Only one medicine that helps is opiate pain pills and Tylenol. Nearing a retirement and my body is faster giving up on me. Life with out health problems is best thing person can have.

  18. Would have been kind of informative to list the drugs you are implicating. OR is that too much information or something.

  19. This article contains some blatant misinformation. I am a physician who prescribes many anti-cholinergic medications in NYC. First off, beta-blockers are not anti-cholinergics! Quite the opposite effect actually. Next, anti-cholinergics are not prescribed anymore for Parkinson’s– Carbidopa/Levodopa and other Dopamine agonists are. Amantadine the anti-cholinergic shows little to no effect in Parkinson’s anymore. Third, blood pressure medications work on different pathways than anti-cholinergics do and have quite the opposite effect of them. There could be some mild activity but not enough to cause any changes. Hope this clears things up so as not to mislead the public!!!!!

  20. No comments here? Sure.
    US healthcare system is No. 3 cause of death in USA due to mistakes and they admit it.
    Big Pharma is No. 4 cause of death due to side effects of properly prescribed “medicines”.
    Those people are for emergencies only, else just say no.

  21. What would have made this article useful rather than alarmist is an actual list of the drugs or at least a link to a list. As written, the article is worthless.

  22. How about a list of these medications for everyday Americans who would be tremendously interested to see if they had been prescribed any ?
    That would be most helpful to your public.

  23. Benadryl is a vital med for those who immune systems (Cancer patients) are susceptible to extreme rashes, reactions and unforeseen side effects due to chemotherapy, radiation and edema.

  24. Okay. What are the drugs that are causing the problems? I saw only two, Metoprolol, and loratadine that my wife and I have taken. My thinkinbg has improved immensely since I stopped everything except the gold-plated Eliquis.

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