DRUGS USED FOR ANXIETY, SLEEP ARE LINKED TO ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE IN OLDER PEOPLE

pile of pills

Older people who have relied on a class of drugs called benzodiazepines to reduce anxiety or induce sleep are at higher risk of going on to develop Alzheimer’s disease, new research finds, with those whose use of the medications is most intensive almost twice as likely to develop the mind-robbing disorder.

Benzodiazepines — marketed under such names as as Xanax, Valium, Ativan and Klonopin — are widely used to treat insomnia, agitation and anxiety, all of which can be early signs of impending Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly. But the current study sought to disentangle benzodiazepines’ use in treating early dementia symptoms, probing instead the possibility that heavy use of the medications may permit, cause or hasten the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia.

The study compared the pattern of benzodiazepine use in 1,796 elderly people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s with that of 7,184 similar people who had no such diagnosis. Such a study design, conducted by French and Canadian researchers and published Tuesday in the journal BMJ, cannot by itself establish that more intensive use of the medications causes Alzheimer’s disease. But it does strengthen such suspicions.

The widely prescribed prescribed medicines marketed as Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata (generically named zolpidem, eszopiclone and zaleplon) are “atypical benzodiazepines” and were not included in the analysis.

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