A study published this month in the BMJ reports an association between the use of certain anticholinergic drugs and the risk of dementia in the future. Dr Parastou Donyai, Associate Professor of Social and Cognitive Pharmacy, provided her expert comment on this study to the Science Media Centre and said,
“This paper ties in well with current advice for doctors to be careful when using drugs with anticholinergic effects in older people, those who are frail and others with numerous health conditions. The warning to not use anticholinergic drugs in Parkinson’s disease is also important. But the headline claim that some drugs, especially antidepressants, can cause dementia up to 20 years later should be looked at closely. This type of study imagines that patients actually take their drugs as they were prescribed for them. But we know from other research that people with long-term health conditions really only take their medication as prescribed around half of the time – the other half, people either take more or less of their medication or not at all. This issue of ‘non-adherence’ is common in people with heart conditions, stomach problems and mental health illnesses including depression and we want to be careful not to add to the problem. So my first comment is to remember that the paper really looked at the ‘prescribing’ of drugs rather than the ‘taking’ of these medications. This brings me to my second comment which is that anyone worried about taking their antidepressant as a result of this paper should speak to their doctor or pharmacist first and not suddenly stop their medication.”
Results from the study along with Dr. Parastou’s comments have also been reported in the BBC and The Guardian.
Link to study: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k1315