Your risk of developing dementia is determined by a variety of factors, some of which you can control and others not. Your family history, for example, is just a matter of luck, and no matter how much you wish, you cannot change your age. On the other hand, things like your diet, alcohol consumption, and medication intake are considered modifiable.
A new report warns that taking a certain drug can put you at increased risk of developing dementia later – and that’s hardly the drug’s only downside. Read on to learn which commonly prescribed medications put you at risk and why even short-term use can cause a problem.
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A 2021 report published by Psychiatric Times warns that the drug benzodiazepine, a psychoactive drug used to treat anxiety, seizures and insomnia, has been linked to a high risk of dementia. It is often sold as Klonopin, Valium, Librium, Ativan and under other brand names and generics.
“Although there are no randomized controlled trials (RCTs) examining the association between benzodiazepine use and risk of dementia, six prospective cohort studies, six case-control studies and one retrospective cohort study examine the relationship,” the report states. Of the 13 studies mentioned in the report, eight showed a positive association between benzodiazepine use and dementia, and two others showed mixed or inconclusive results. The other studies found no discernible association.
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A 2016 study published in BMJ and cited in the report specifically looked at how long patients took the drug as it was linked to cognitive outcomes. The researchers found that short-term use of the drug was associated with the development of dementia. “It remains uncertain whether long-term use is associated with global cognitive decline,” the study authors write. This complicates the popular notion that benzodiazepines are considered safe for short-term use, a period typically defined as two to four weeks for this particular drug.
Experts warn that benzodiazepines have long been associated with a variety of potentially serious side effects. “These drugs are associated with many adverse effects, including falls, broken bones, traffic accidents and delirium,” he explains BMJ to learn.
In addition, benzos are known to cause drowsiness, confusion, blurred vision, loss of motor control, slurred speech, slowed breathing, muscle weakness, and more. However, you should not attempt to set the application yourself. Talk to your doctor to learn how to safely wean yourself off benzodiazepines.
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Experts warn that benzos not only increase the risk of dementia and trigger other side effects, but can also become addictive. “Benzodiazepines work by slowing down nerve activity in the brain and the rest of the central nervous system, thereby dissipating stress and its physical and emotional side effects,” explains the American Addiction Centers. In addition to their sedative effects, benzodiazepines are known to “release dopamine in the brain, which is the chemical messenger involved in reward and pleasure. The brain can learn to anticipate the regular doses of benzos after a few weeks of ingestion, and therefore stop working with these chemicals without making them themselves.”
Thanks to its addictive properties and the willingness of many doctors to overprescribe the drug, many users of benzodiazepines have become addicted. Talk to your doctor if you think you are experiencing negative side effects from this medication or if you have developed drug-seeking behaviors related to its use.
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