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A senior man and woman prepare to take medication after researching which medications are liked to memory loss.

A List of Drugs Linked to Dementia Risk

10 minute readLast updated June 19, 2023
Written by Amanda Lundberg, RN, family medicine expert

Imagine the concern, confusion, and frustration you might feel when the medicines meant to protect and preserve your loved one’s health potentially threaten their cognition. It’s a daunting reality that as we age, our dependency on various medications often increases, and alarmingly, so does our risk of dementia. The possibility that some drugs could cause dementia symptoms or enhance the likelihood of developing this degenerative condition can be profoundly unsettling. With this in mind, we’ll examine the links between certain drugs and dementia, providing you with actionable guidance for safeguarding the health of your loved one.

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Exploring medications that cause dementia

Presently, there isn’t definitive evidence to show that certain drugs directly cause dementia. Nevertheless, two classes of drugs are markedly linked to a heightened risk of dementia. Drugs tied to dementia include anticholinergics and benzodiazepines. Both the American Geriatrics Society and numerous studies advise against prescribing these medications to seniors whenever possible.

Despite a lack of confirmed causation, it’s known that several common dementia symptoms, such as confusion and memory loss, are recognized side effects of these drugs and others. Let’s delve into a list of drugs linked to dementia.

The role of anticholinergics

Anticholinergics are a class of medications that block and inhibit the activity of a vital neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.[01] Although these medications have a wide range of functions, they’re also associated with significant increases in dementia risk. This list of drugs linked to dementia includes certain antidepressants, antiparkinsonians, antipsychotics, antiepileptic drugs, and medications for bladder control.

According to a study in the Journal of American Medical Association, adults aged 55 and older were nearly 50% more likely to develop dementia if they took just one anticholinergic daily for three years.[02] Additionally, other studies that link anticholinergics to dementia have found that common antihistamines, such as Benadryl and Vicks NyQuil, are linked with higher rates of dementia.[03]

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Some anticholinergic drugs linked to dementia risk include:

  • Amitriptyline (Elavil)
  • Aripiprazole (Abilify)
  • Benztropine (Cogentin)
  • Biperiden (Akineton)
  • Brompheniramine (Dimaphen DM)
  • Carbamazepine (Tegretol)
  • Chlorpheniramine (ChlorTrimeton)
  • Chlorpromazine (Thorazine)
  • Clemastine (Dayhist Allergy)
  • Clomipramine (Anafranil)
  • Clozapine (Clozaril)
  • Cyproheptadine (Periactin)
  • Darifenacin (Enablex)
  • Desipramine (Norpramin)
  • Dexchlorpheniramine (Polmon)
  • Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine)
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Doxepin (Sinequan)
  • Doxylamine (Vicks NyQuil)
  • Flupenthixol (Depixol)
  • Fluphenazine (Modecate)
  • Haloperidol (Haldol)
  • Hydroxyzine (Vistaril)
  • Imipramine (Tofranil)
  • Loxapine (Adasuve)
  • Methscopolamine (Pamine)
  • Nortriptyline (Aventyl)
  • Olanzapine (Zyprexa)
  • Oxcarbazepine (Trileptal)
  • Oxybutynin (Ditropan)
  • Paliperidone (Invega)
  • Perphenazine (Trilafon)
  • Phenindamine (Nolahist)
  • Pimozide (Orap)
  • Propantheline (ProBanthine)
  • Pyrilamine (Codimal DM)
  • Quetiapine (Seroquel)
  • Risperidone (Risperdal)
  • Solifenacin (Vesicare)
  • Thiothixene (Navane)
  • Tolterodine (Detrol)
  • Trifluoperazine (Stelazine)
  • Trihexyphenidyl (Artane)
  • Trospium (Sanctura)
  • Ziprasidone (Geodon)
  • Zuclopenthixol (Clopixol)

Benzodiazepines and dementia

Benzodiazepines are a class of medications often prescribed to seniors for a variety of conditions, including anxiety and insomnia, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration. Various studies, including one from the Journal of Clinical Neurology highlighted a substantial rise in dementia risk while taking benzodiazepines. This risk appears to be more pronounced for individuals who took higher doses of benzodiazepines for extended durations.[04]

If you’re helping a loved one manage any of these medications, it’s definitely worth having a conversation with their doctor about balancing the benefits of these drugs against the potential risk of dementia. Understanding what prescription drugs are linked to dementia could lead to safer medication choices, particularly for our vulnerable seniors.

Some benzodiazepines potentially linked to increased dementia risk include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Clorazepate (Tranxene)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Estazolam (Prosom)
  • Flurazepam (Dalmane)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Nitrazepam (Mogadon)
  • Oxazepam (Serax)
  • Quazepam (Doral)
  • Temazepam (Restoril)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)

Chemotherapy drugs and dementia

“Chemo brain” is a term referring to cognitive and memory problems associated with cancer and chemotherapy treatments and has symptoms similar to dementia. Despite the similarities, chemo brain is typically reversible once a patient’s health improves, unlike dementia.

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While dementia and chemo brain both result in memory loss, they are distinguished by several key differences. Dementia leads to gradually increasing cognitive changes and is incurable. Chemo brain, on the other hand, is directly linked to cancer or its treatment and often improves over time. Notably, people with chemo brain are typically aware of their memory lapses and can recall past memories with prompting, which is not the case for dementia patients. Additionally, chemo brain doesn’t typically affect speech patterns or lead to hallucinations and wandering, which are common dementia symptoms.

The link between chemotherapy and dementia is yet to be definitively established. Some studies suggest that chemotherapy treatment could lead to cognitive decline and potentially dementia.[05] Factors such as a patient’s age, sex, and weight, as well as chronic inflammation, types of chemotherapy being used, and types of cancer being treated can all significantly influence these results. Especially for elderly patients who are often more susceptible to chemotherapy-related toxicities, chemotherapy can potentially affect their quality of life. Therefore, more research is needed to conclusively determine if chemotherapy can directly cause dementia.

Minimizing medication-induced dementia risk

In some cases, your loved one may need to continue taking the medications mentioned in this article. However, their doctor might be able to lower doses or substitute these drugs with others that have fewer dementia-like side effects.

If you’re uncertain about your loved one’s exposure to drugs linked to dementia, bring all their medications to their next doctor’s appointment. Don’t forget to include over-the-counter (OTC) drugs as well as prescriptions.

A geriatrician, with expertise in age-related issues, will be able to provide valuable insight into your loved one’s medication regimen, thus increasing their health and safety. Remember that it’s always better to use caution when it comes to dementia-linked medications.

Table of Contents

Exploring medications that cause dementia

Minimizing medication-induced dementia risk

SHARE THE ARTICLE

  1. StatPearls. (2023, May 8). Anticholinergic medications.

  2. Coupland, C., Hill, T., & Dening, T. (2019, June 24). Anticholinergic drug exposure and the risk of dementia: A nested case-control study. JAMA Internal Medicine.

  3. Gray, S., Anderson, M., & Dublin, S. (2015, March). Cumulative use of strong anticholinergics and incident dementia: A prospective cohort study. JAMA Internal Medicine.

  4. [4] He, Q., Chen, X., Wu, T., Li, L., & Fei, X. (2019, January). Risk of dementia in long-term Benzodiazepine users: Evidence from a meta-analysis of observational studies. Journal of Clinical Neurology.

  5. Das, A., Ranadive, N., Kinra, M., Nampoothiri, M., Arora, D., & Mudgal, J. (2020, September). An overview on chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment and potential role of antidepressants. Current Neuropharmacology.

Meet the Author
Amanda Lundberg, RN, family medicine expert

Amanda Lundberg, RN, has over 10 years of experience in clinical settings, working extensively with seniors and focusing on wellness and preventative care.

Edited by

Claire Samuels

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