If you are concerned about memory problems as you age, there is one major factor to consider: medications. Certain medications can contribute to dementia and memory loss. There are changes you can make to your medication plan to avoid some of these complications.
The National Academy of Medicine lists medication management as one of the “top three actions you can take to help protect your cognitive health as you age.”
Unfortunately, many seniors take multiple medications and are unaware of all of their side effects. Many think a medication is okay just because they have been taking it for a long time. But this notion can be deceiving, as the brain processes substances differently as it ages and may not be able to handle certain drugs it once did.
Not only can certain drugs contribute to memory loss, but multiple medications are top on the list for causing lack of balance and falls as well. Thus, reducing and managing prescriptions is very important for many reasons. According to Leslie Kernisan, MD, MPH, the following are the top four drugs that dampen brain function.
Four Top Drugs that Minimize Brain Function
- Benzodiazepines. These are prescribed to alleviate anxiety and help with sleeping. Unfortunately these drugs are highly habit-forming and can contribute to developing dementia. Examples of benzodiazepines are Ativan, Valium, Restoril, and Xanax.
- Prescription sedatives. Examples of these are Ambien, Sonata, and Lunesta. These drugs can impair brain function and balance. An alternative sleep aid is trazodone.
- Anticholinergics. Examples of anticholinergic drugs are Benadryl, Nyquil, Tyenol PM, Ditropan, Detrol, Antivert, Elavil, and more. These include drugs that are prescribed for overactive bladder, vertigo, nausea, itching, muscle relaxation and antihistamine. A full list of anticholinergics can be found here. In addition to impairing thinking, this group of drugs can affect balance, and cause dry mouth, dry eyes, and constipation.
- Antipsychotics and mood stabilizers. Examples of these are Risperdal, Seroquel, Zyprexa, Abilify, Haldol, and Depakote. These drugs are often inappropriately prescribed for dementia behaviors. They interfere with brain function and lead to a higher chance of death for those with dementia. Alternatives include citalopram, donepezil, and memantine.
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Things to note
- When stopping a drug, see a doctor and make a plan to taper off slowly rather than stopping all at once.
- If it’s not possible to stop a drug, move to the lowest dose possible (especially with antipsychotics and mood stabilizers, which can have major effects on the elderly).
- Once someone has dementia, it’s much harder to stop taking these medications due to the emotional aspects of coming off a drug.
- Alternatives to help with anxiety and insomnia are cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness therapy, exercise, lifestyle changes, social activity, and counseling.
- Another class of drugs that dampen thinking and are habit-forming are opiates. These should be taken with caution in low doses, if at all.
Review your medications with you doctor to see which benzodiazepines, anticholinergic drugs, and others it may be possible to eliminate or pare down. Visit a geriatrician who specializes in caring for older people, and avoid doctors who simply prescribe pills without looking deeper into your whole situation.
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