Regular use of some popular medications may increase the possibility of reduced brain size and brain disorder, according to scientific research, the Independent reports. A study of common drugs, both over-the-counter and prescription drugs including hayfever medication, incontinence treatments, some sleeping pills, and anti-depressants may reduce brain size.
The study was led by a team of scientists at Indiana University School of Medicine. They assessed 451 elderly subjects, 60 of whom were taking at least one medication with anticholinergenic properties. Anticholinergenics block the chemical which transfers electrical impulses between nerves, and are also found to lower metabolism, reports the Independent.
Those participants taking the drug had a notably reduced brain volume as well as larger ventricles and cavities in the brain.
In addition to poorer performance with verbal reasoning, short-term memory, planning, and problem solving, users had lower levels of glucose metabolism in their brain. This is a biomarker for brain activity which may lead to Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Shannon Risacher is the assistant professor of radiology and imaging sciences at the University and first author of the research paper. She 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.”
There have been links previously found between the use of certain drugs and a higher risk of dementia or cognitive impairment, but this is believed to be a first study of the underlying biology by using neuroimaging and measuring brain metabolism, the Independent reports.
Dr. Risacher believes this research established that anticholinergenic medications are “associated with increased brain atrophy and dysfunction and clinical decline” and therefore, “use of anticholinergenic medication among older adults should likely be discouraged if alternative therapies are available.”
The Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, Dr. James Pritchett, warned against drastic action. He believes this “small study” is relevant, but the full impact of these drugs remains unclear as the participants in the study were more “likely to have insomnia, anxiety, or depression, all of which are risk factors for dementia.”
It is agreed that more research is needed and that doctors and pharmacists should be aware of this potential link, reports the Independent.