Taking one of a class of anti-anxiety pills that includes Ativan, Valium or Xanax does not increase older adults’ risk of dementia, a new study finds.
However, experts note that these drugs – collectively called benzodiazepines – can have other side effects and should still be used with caution.
As the study authors explained, some prior research has suggested that use of the medicines may be associated with increased risk of dementia. However, other findings have contradicted that finding.
To look further into the issue, a team led by Shelly Gray, a professor of pharmacy at the University of Washington in Seattle, studied more than 3,400 people aged 65 and older. All did not have dementia at the beginning of the study.
The benzodiazepine use of each patient was assessed, and each was then followed for an average of seven years. During that time, 23% of the patients developed Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, Gray’s group reported in the Feb. 2 issue of the BMJ.
Those with the highest level of benzodiazepine use had no higher risk of dementia or mental decline than other patients, the study found.
“Overall, our results do not support a causal association between benzodiazepine use and dementia,” Gray and her colleagues wrote.
But one expert believes this latest study still doesn’t close the file on this issue.
Dr. Gisele Wolf-Klein is the director of geriatric education at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y. She noted that the study authors did not base their identification of Alzheimer’s disease in patients of the “gold standard,” a comprehensive neurological exam. This introduces “a concern about the clinical strength of their data,” Wolf-Klein said.
Previous research has found that nearly 25% of diagnosed cases of dementia in this country are erroneous. These elderly patients are just overmedicated – reduce their meds and their cognitive abilities return.
Antianxiety medication is too commonly prescribed in general, but our elderly population appears to be the target and one that poorly tolerates this class of medications.
Polypharmacy (the prescribing of 5 or more medications) is the real issue and again our elderly population is the target. In 1998, 54% of our elderly population took 5 or more medications daily and 19% took more than 10. By 2003 those percentages had grown to 67% taking 5 or more meds and 28% taking more than 10.
As I have stated in previous blogs, polypharmacy can not be managed. No physician can adequately monitor the thousands of potential interactions and side effects of these drugs. I am amazed that the human body can even tolerate such abuse, especially the elderly.
The Bottom Line:
Review your parents and grandparent’s medications with them and their doctors. The tendency is for multiple physicians to add multiple medications with little or no oversight. Often physicians are unaware of each others actions. Just as you must be an advocate for your own health, you must be an advocate for theirs as well.
Source: February 3, 2016 National Institutes of Health