Certain drugs used to treat respiratory and gastrointestinal problems may lead to cognitive decline in older adults, says a new study.
During the study, researchers from Yale University Department of Internal Medicine examined the effects of exposure to anticholinergic medications, on over 500 relatively healthy men aged 65 years or older with high blood pressure.
These drugs can affect neurotransmitters in the brain that are important to overall brain function.
The researchers examined the total effects of all medications taken by the patients, both prescription and over-the-counter, that were believed to affect the function of a particular neurotransmitter, acetylcholine.
They found that chronic use of medications with anticholinergic properties may have detrimental effects on memory and the ability to perform daily living tasks, such as shopping and managing finances.
The participants showed deficits in both memory and daily function when they took these medications over the course of a year.
Moreover, the degree of memory difficulty and impairment in daily living tasks also increased proportionally to the total amount of drug exposure.
Study co-author Dr. Ling Han of the Yale University Department of Internal Medicine said that elderly patients may be more vulnerable to these types of medications due to neurological and pharmacokinetical changes related to aging.
"This study extends our previous findings on acute cognitive impairment following recent anticholinergic exposure in older medical inpatients," said Han.
"Prescribing for older adults who take multiple prescription and over-the-counter medications requires careful attention to minimize the risk of potential harms of the drugs while maximizing their health benefits," Han added.
This study is published in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.