Alzheimer’s has been linked to anxiety and sleep medications containing a popular sedative. According to a new study, which was published on Tuesday, long-term use of benzodiazepines could increase the risk of developing the debilitating disease.
To conduct the study, scientists examined medical records provided by the Quebec, Canada, health insurance database.
The researchers identified a total of 8,980 elderly patients, who were prescribed benzodiazepines. Over a period of six years, 1,796 of those patients developed Alzheimer’s disease.
As reported by Medical News Today, the researchers concluded that patients who took benzodiazepines for more than three months were 51 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
The findings are significant as anxiety and sleep disturbances are quite common. As discussed by RX List, anxiety disorders and insomnia are likely caused by “excessive activity of nerves in the brain.” Benzodiazepines are frequently prescribed for these disorders as they “reduce the activity of nerves in the brain.”
In the United States, common benzodiazepines include Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin, and Restoril.
Although the recent study linked Alzheimer’s with anxiety and sleep medications, the specific cause of the disease remains unknown.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suspected risk factors may include age and family history. In recent years, studies have also suggested that activity levels, diet and education may increase or decrease the risk.
Alzheimer’s disease is particularly devastating as it is progresses slowly and there is no cure. Initially, the symptoms may be attributed to other causes — including old age. However, as the disease progresses, patients become increasingly impaired until they are no longer able to function without assistance.
In the recent study, researchers attempted to eliminate “reverse causation bias.” However, they admit the possibility that “benzodiazepine use might be an early marker of a condition… and not the cause.”
As Alzheimer’s patients often experience anxiety, depression, and insomnia, the medication may have been prescribed after the disease began to develop.
Although the data is not conclusive, it may provide some much needed insight. Doctors are cautioned to “carefully balance the benefits and risks” when prescribing benzodiazepines to elderly patients.
In 2012, the American Geriatrics Society added benzodiazepines to their “list of inappropriate drugs for adults.” However, an estimated 50 percent of elderly patients continue to use the medication.
As Alzheimer’s was linked to the anxiety and sleep medications, doctors now have another reason to consider alternative therapy for elderly patients.
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