A recently published study found that people who take a common antidepressant drug called anticholinergics have a higher risk of developing dementia. Anticholinergics are drugs that are designed to block acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter. Anticholinergics have already been previously identified by researchers as one of the likely causes of cognitive decline, however, they were unable to find enough evidence to link the drugs to dementia. This new study from an international team of researchers provides this missing evidence.

What are Anticholinergics?

Anticholinergic medications are intended to inhibit the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the peripheral and central nervous system. Acetylcholine is essential brain chemical in the memory pathways. Depending on which part of the nervous system is being targeted, anticholinergics can result in a number of reactions in the human body.

Because of their ability to affect the nervous system, anticholinergics are not just used in antidepressant drugs. They are also used in the production of other types of medications such as drugs that are designed to treat bladder problems, epilepsy, some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, and hay fever.

Increased Risk for Dementia

The new research looked at more than 27 million prescriptions that are recorded for a sample group of adults who have been diagnosed with dementia and another larger sample group without the condition. The study found that the people belonging to sample group with dementia are more likely to have been prescribed stronger anticholinergics before they were diagnosed with the disease.

Depending on the strength of the prescribed anticholinergics, the increased risk can go up to 30 percent in certain cases. The researchers, however, carefully noted that the intake of anticholinergics did not directly cause dementia. Instead, they lead to an increased risk for the condition.

Precautionary Recommendations

The results of the study are useful because they help doctors make an informed decision about whether they should prescribe anticholinergics to their patients. Because of the risks associated with these types of drugs, doctors should think twice about prescribing them to certain groups of people such as older or frailer patients, because they significantly impact cognitive function.

Preventing dementia is one of the top priorities of many medical experts across the world. In the United States alone, Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, is listed as the 6th chief cause of death. By providing physicians with information about these new findings, they can determine safer ways for patients to receive the treatment they need.