Common over-the-counter medicines should be avoided by older people as they have been linked to memory loss and problems in thinking, scientists have discovered.
Treatments for colds and flu, hay fever, allergy and heartburn tablets containing anti-cholinergic drugs had the effect for one month after treatment, a study found.
Effects associated with taking the drugs included having slower brain processing times and smaller brains overall.
Well known treatments including the heartburn medicine Zantac, Night Nurse Liquid containing Promethazine and the sleeping tablet Nytol, containing diphenhydramine, are included among drugs that may result in the effects, the research said.
The drugs block the chemical acetylcholine, which is involved in the transmission of electrical impulses between nerve cells.
The treatments are prescribed for a wide range of conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, overactive bladder, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, nausea and vomiting, sleeping problems, high blood pressure, depression and psychosis.
But the authors warn: ‘Use of AC [anti-cholinergic] medication among older adults should likely be discouraged if alternative therapies are available.’
Previous studies have linked the drugs with cognitive impairment, increased risk of dementia and falls.
However, the new study by Indiana University School of Medicine, is the first to explore their impact on brain metabolism and atrophy through brain scans.
Dr Shannon Risacher, the university’s assistant professor of radiology and imaging sciences, said: ‘These findings provide us with a much better understanding of how this class of drugs may act upon the brain in ways that might raise the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia,’
‘Given all the research evidence, physicians might want to consider alternatives to anticholinergic medications if available when working with their older patients.
‘The impact of these drugs have been know about for over a decade, with a 2013 study finding drugs with a strong anticholinergic effect cause cognitive problems when taken continuously for as few as 60 days. Drugs with a weaker effect could cause impairment within 90 days.’
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