Taking benzodiazepines, widely prescribed drugs to treat anxiety and insomnia, is associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, particularly for long-term users.
French and Canadian researchers, writing in the journal BMJ, warn that unwarranted long-term use should be considered a public health concern.
There are more than 332,000 Australians living with dementia. This number is expected to increase by one-third to 400,000 in less than ten years.
Using data from the Quebec health insurance program database (RAMQ), the researchers tracked the development of Alzheimer’s disease in a sample of elderly residents who had been prescribed benzodiazepines.
Over a period of at least six years, they identified 1,796 cases of Alzheimer’s disease.
They then compared each case with 7,184 healthy people matched for age, sex, and duration of follow-up.
Results show that past use of benzodiazepines for three months or more was associated with an increased risk (up to 51%) of Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr Bryce Vissel, of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, says this study is particularly important given concerns that elderly patients may sometimes be over-medicated.
It has been estimated that up to 50% of older adults use these drugs.
“The potential long term consequences on brain health over time are likely to be missed in people adding to the growing prevalence of cognitive impairment among older people,” he says.
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