Study Links Anxiety Drugs to Alzheimer’s Disease

The medical journal BMJ recently released the findings of a new study that links long term use of anxiety drugs to Alzheimer’s disease. Previously, reports have been released that tie the long term use of drugs in the sedative-hypnotic family, which includes benzodiazepines like Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin in addition to related “z-drugs” like Ambien and Lunesta, to issues of dementia in elderly patients. The most recent study focuses specifically on benzo-drugs use in seniors and the rates of Alzheimer’s disease.

Sedative-Hypnotics and Elderly Accidents

Doctors and health organizations have been concerned about benzodiazepines and its interaction with seniors for years. They point to much higher rates of falls, fractures, auto accidents, and cognitive problems in older patients taking these types of drugs as compared to seniors that do not. There is also a higher rate of emergency room visits and hospital admissions.

Recently, the American Geriatric Society included a long list of anxiety drugs on its “Choosing Wisely” list of treatments that doctors and patients should question. Now, French and Canadian researchers are reporting that benzodiazepine use can be directly linked to a higher rate of Alzheimer’s disease, and that the association strengthens with a higher use of these drugs.

Benzodiazepine Use and Alzheimer’s Study

Experts reviewed medical records of almost 1,800 older people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the public health insurance program in Quebec and compared them to around 7,200 control subjects most of whom were over eighty years old. Almost half those with Alzheimer’s and forty percent of the control subjects had used benzodiazepines that translated to a 51% increase in the odds of a subsequent Alzheimer’s diagnosis among the benzodiazepine users.

Short-term use of the drugs had no increased risk for seniors, but elderly patients who took the drugs longer were more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In older patients who took daily doses between 91 and 180 days the risk rose 32% compared to seniors who did not use the drug. In those who took daily doses for more than 180 days, the risk was 84% higher.

The association persisted whether users took 180 doses over six months or over five years, and it also remained constant even after the researchers controlled for health and demographic factors, including conditions like anxiety, depression and insomnia. The connection to Alzheimer’s was stronger to longer-acting forms of the drug like Valium than to shorter-acting drugs like Xanax.

Raising Awareness about Alzheimer’s

Dementia affects roughly twenty to thirty percent of seniors over the age of eighty, and Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 70% of that. The search for drugs, treatments, and root causes of this debilitating disease has been discouraging. However, the results of this study not only show a correlation between anxiety drugs and Alzheimer’s but could also point towards prevention.

Stopping these medications for seniors could be an easy, cost-effective method of reducing the chances of Alzheimer’s. At the very least, it could help seniors who are considering going on these types of medications make an informed decision about the risks involved and the association between it and Alzheimer’s.

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