Common Allergy Drugs May Increase Dementia Risk

Allergies season is in full swing but older adults may want to carefully consider what medications they take in light of a recent study that links anticholinergic drugs to an increased risk of dementia and cognitive impairment.

Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine found that many over-the-counter drugs commonly taken to treat allergies and colds, may have an adverse effect on the brain.

The 2013 study tracked 451 people, with an average age of 73.  Those taking anticholinergic drugs, such as Benadryl, Demerol, Dimetapp, Dramamine, Paxil, Unisom and VESIcare, were found to have reduced brain volumes, lower levels of glucose metabolism (a marker for brain activity) and performed worse on short-term memory tests, verbal reasoning, planning and problem solving.

The research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology, found that cognitive problems can occur in participants taking drugs with a strong anticholinergic effect in as little as 60 days while weaker drugs may cause impairment in 90 days.

Anticholinergic drugs are also prescribed as sleep aids and to treat hypertension, cardiovascular disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  Talk with your doctor about alternatives before stopping any prescription medication.

A full list of medications with risk for cognitive impairment can be found at