Study: Medications used to treat veterans’ PTSD increase dementia risk

IOWA CITY, Iowa — More than 8 million U.S. adults experience post-traumatic stress disorder each year and often take antidepressants, antipsychotics or sedatives for treatment. But veterans and civilians alike who are taking these PTSD medications are at an increased risk for developing dementia, a new study finds.

A new study finds an increased risk of dementia contained in medications used to treat PTSD.
A new study finds an increased risk of dementia contained in medications used to treat PTSD.

Researchers at the University of Iowa analyzed data from nearly 3.2 million veterans aged 56 and older starting in 2003. At that time, these veterans were receiving health care from a Veterans Health Administration facility. Nearly all the veterans studied were male and 82 percent were white.

The data showed that 5.4 percent of the veterans had been diagnosed with PTSD in 2003, and the researchers analyzed their follow-up data for the next nine years. They found that those taking antidepressants, tranquilizers, sedatives or antipsychotic prescriptions were at an increased risk of developing dementia. Specifically, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), novel antidepressants and atypical antipsychotics increased dementia risks most significantly.

The veterans in the study who used three classes of medications — novel antidepressants, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and benzodiazepines — were also at an increased risk for dementia regardless of whether or not they had PTSD.

Previous studies had shown that traumatic brain injury, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), psychiatric disorders and substance abuse were health issues associated with a higher risk of dementia.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 7 to 8 out of every 100 people will have PTSD at some point in their lives. And about 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year. This is only a small portion of those who have gone through a trauma.

About 11-20 out of every 100 veterans who served in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars are affected by PTSD in a given year.

The researchers said the “psychoactive” drugs being used to treat PTSD could be causing an interaction that is increasing these individuals’ risk for developing dementia. They encourage continued research into whether its the types of medicines, or perhaps dosage, that is linking the two.

This study was published in the February 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.