These 5 Popular Medications Have Been Linked With Alzheimer's, Research Shows

If you're taking any of these drugs, talk to your doctor about the risk of dementia.

Any news about potentially treating or reversing dementia is good news, such as a recent study which utilized the hormone oxytocin and showed promising results in lab mice. That's because currently there's no cure for Alzheimer's disease and related dementias (ADRD), which continue to rise at alarming rates. "It is estimated that nearly 500,000 new cases of Alzheimer's disease will be diagnosed this year in the United States," reports the BrightFocus Foundation. "Every 3 seconds, someone in the world develops dementia."

Although memory loss can occur with age, BrightFocus explains that dementia is not a normal part of the aging process. "Alzheimer's disease is an irreversible degeneration of the brain that causes disruptions in memory, cognition, personality, and other functions that eventually lead to death from complete brain failure," says the site.

Researchers are searching for answers in the battle against ADRD, and making headway with new possible treatments. But for now, preventative measures are the most effective way to address diseases like Alzheimer's. This includes making healthy lifestyle choices, and also avoiding the kind of habits, foods, and medications that have been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline. Read on to find out about five drugs that could be affecting your brain health.

READ THIS NEXT: This Common Medication Could Be Hurting Your Brain, New Study Says.

1
Benzodiazepines

Doctor handing container of pills to patient.
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Benzodiazepines (BZD) have been associated with an increased dementia risk, the Alzheimer's Association reports. However, the interpretation of this data is "uniquely challenging because the conditions for which BZDs are prescribed (anxiety, agitations, insomnia) are also symptoms of ADRD," warns the site.

The National Library of Medicine reported that a meta-analysis of ten different studies found "that BZD significantly increases the risk of dementia in the elderly population" noting the significance of long-term use: "The risk is higher in patients taking BZD with a longer half-life (greater than 20 hours) and for a longer duration (greater than three years)."

2
Anticholinergics

Pills spilling out from yellow container.
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Long-term use was also found to be significant in research regarding anticholinergics. "Anticholinergics are drugs that block the action of acetylcholine," explains Healthline. "Anticholinergics can treat a variety of conditions, including urinary incontinence, overactive bladder (OAB); [and] chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD)" among other conditions.

"When the researchers examined medication use, they found that people who used anticholinergic drugs were more likely to have developed dementia than those who didn't use them," says Harvard Health, emphasizing that this increased with "the cumulative dose."

"Taking an anticholinergic for the equivalent of three years or more was associated with a 54 percent higher dementia risk than taking the same dose for three months or less," warned the site.

3
Statins

A generic pack of statins with a stethoscope.
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A class of statins called lipophilic statins—which include drugs such as Lipitor, Lescol, and Livalo—can be very effective at lowering high levels of cholesterol. But studies have shown a possible link between use of these drugs and cognitive decline.

"While you would expect that statin use would reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia because statins lower cardiovascular risks and the risk of stroke, it hasn't been clearly shown to be the case," JoAnn Manson, MD, told Harvard Health. "It's surprising that there's not a clearer reduction seen. If anything, some of these studies have raised concerns about cognitive risks."

Manson stressed that the research has not been conclusive and that it's important to discuss the risks and benefits and statins with your medical provider.

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4
Anti-seizure drugs

Various epilepsy medications.
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One type of anti-seizure drug, Levetiracetam, was found in 2021 to actually improve cognitive functions in Alzheimer's patients. But other anti-seizure meds are linked to an increased risk of dementia, revealed a study which focused on patients in Germany and Finland and was published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society. These include drugs like Depakote and Topamax.

"Continuous use of anti-epileptic drugs for a period exceeding one year was associated with a 15 percent increased risk of Alzheimer's disease in the Finnish dataset, and with a 30 percent increased risk of dementia in the German dataset," says Science Daily.

5
Parkinson's disease medications

Woman holding medication and a glass of water.
Circle Creative Studio/iStock


"Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder that affects the nervous system and the parts of the body controlled by the nerves," the Mayo Clinic explains. "Although Parkinson's disease can't be cured, medications might significantly improve your symptoms."

Unfortunately, some of the medications used to treat the disease "may lead to major side effects such as memory loss, confusion, delusions, and compulsive behaviors" as a result of their effects on the pathways for the neurotransmitter dopamine, reports Pharmacy Times.

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Luisa Colón
Luisa Colón is a writer, editor, and consultant based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, Latina, and many more. Read more
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