Regular use of drugs with strong anticholinergic effects in older adults for up to two months can lead to cognitive impairment with a similar effect seen when taking multiple drugs with weak anticholinergic effect for a period of 90 days, a new study by researchers at Regenstrief Institute, the Indiana University Center for Aging Research and Wishard-Eskenazi Health found.
The study of 3,690 older adults is among the first to explore how length of use of this group of drugs affects the brain. The study is available online in advance of publication in a print issue of Alzheimer's & Dementia, the journal of the Alzheimer's Association. The research was funded by a grant (R24MH080827) from the National Institute on Aging.
Anticholinergic drugs block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter. Drugs with anticholinergic effects are sold over the counter and by prescription. Older adults commonly use over-the-counter drugs with anticholinergic effects as sleep aids and to relieve bladder leakage. Drugs with anticholinergic effects are frequently prescribed for many chronic diseases including hypertension, cardiovascular disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.