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Common antidepressants linked to dementia risk

Published on 26/04/18 at 09:02am

A large study looking at the public’s use of anticholinergic drugs, such as those used to treat depression and Parkinson’s, could be linked to an increased risk of developing dementia.

In England alone approximately two million people are taking this type of medicine and the study, undertaken by the University of East Anglia, found that higher levels of usage were tied to an increased numbers of patients with dementia.

The study analysed data from the UK’s Clinical Practice Research Database, which held prescription information on 40,770 patients aged from 65 to 99 years who were diagnosed with dementia. This cohort was then matched up against a control group of a similar age and sex but who didn’t develop dementia, at a ratio of seven without dementia to one with.

The medication of each person was then measured for its anticholinergic activity and then weighed against the amount of time the individual took the medicine for.

It found that those receiving drugs that antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, that were definitely anticholinergic, Parkinson’s drugs and treatment for urinary incontinence were associated with an increased risk of dementia up to 20 years after.

The increased risk elevated an average member of the public’s chances of developing from dementia from 10% to 13%, which is a small increment but enough that the researchers were compelled to encourage doctors to seek alternative treatments for their patients.

“This study shows that some anticholinergics may cause long-term harm in addition to short-term harm”, said Dr Ian Maidment from Aston University, the lead pharmacist on the study. “With many different medicines having at least some anticholinergic activity, one focus should be de-prescribing. Doctors, nurses and pharmacists need to work with older people and their carers to ensure that they only take medication if the benefits clearly outweigh the harms.”

Alternative theories as to why anticholinergic drugs might be showing these links were because depression and urinary incontinence are early symptoms of dementia, and treatment could then be a reaction to this not a cause of itself.

It was also noted that many patients taking such drugs were also receiving a cocktail of other medicines therefore there could be some interactions that were able to cause this increased risk of dementia.

Ben Hargreaves

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