June 24 (UPI) -- A widely used group of drugs -- anticholinergics -- used for everything from depression to allergies and gastrointestinal conditions to Parkinson's disease, may increase risk for dementia, a new study says.
People over age 55 who used strong anticholinergic medication each day for more than three years had a 50 percent increased risk of developing dementia, according to findings published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
"This study provides further evidence that doctors should be careful when prescribing certain drugs that have anticholinergic properties," Tom Dening, who runs the Center for Dementia at the University of Nottingham and study author, said in a news release. "However, it's important that patients taking medications of this kind don't just stop them abruptly as this may be much more harmful. If patients have concerns, then they should discuss them with their doctor to consider the pros and cons of the treatment they are receiving."
For the study, the researchers analyzed medical data on nearly 59,000 people with dementia collected between January 2004 and January 2016. Of the records analyzed, the median age of patients was 82, and about 63 percent them were women.
The researchers first analyzed the records for exposure to any anticholinergic drug, specifically anticholinergic antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, antiparkinsons drugs, bladder drugs and epilepsy drugs for 10 years prior to their dementia diagnosis. Then, a follow-up checked for use of the drugs going back 20 years before diagnosis.
Roughly 57 percent of patients whose records were analyzed for the study received a prescription for at least one strong anticholinergic drug one to 11 years before being diagnosed with dementia.While the link found between the drugs and development of dementia appears strong, the researchers were careful to note that their findings are an associations and do not show that the drugs cause dementia.
"The risks of this type of medication should be carefully considered by healthcare professionals alongside the benefits when the drugs are prescribed and alternative treatments should be considered where possible, such as other types of antidepressants or alternative types of treatment for bladder conditions," said Carol Coupland, a researcher from the University of Nottingham and study lead author.
"These findings also highlight the importance of carrying out regular medication reviews," Coupland added.