Sleeping with the Enemy?

January 3, 2015

There is increasing evidence that drugs commonly prescribed for insomnia and anxiety may increase your risk for Alzheimer’s.

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 6.46.18 PMBenzodiazepines, (available under marketing names like Xanax, Ativan, Valium and Klonopin) and non-benzodiazepine drugs prescribed for similar reasons (i.e., Lunesta and Ambien) are raising concern among scientists.

Doctors have correlated greater incidences of falls and broken bones, car accidents and cognitive issues in seniors who take such prescription drugs.  A recent study, conducted in partnership by scientists in Quebec and France, links the use of  benzodiazepine to higher rates of cognitive decline.  The more a senior uses these meds, the greater the chance that she will be diagnosed with dementia.

The researchers studied medical history of thousands of seniors in the public health insurance program in Quebec.  They found that regular use of benzodiazepine led to a 51 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would be diagnosed with  Alzheimer’s.  Short-term or occasional use appears to be safe.  Long term use, however, leads to increased risk:  people who used the drugs for more than 90 days over the six-year period studied had increased risk for Alzheimer’s.

Taking these drugs for three to six months led to a 32 percent increased risk.  Taking them for six months, whether either spread out over the six years or in one single period, led to increased risk of more than 50 percent.

Observational studies such as these can never prove a direct cause and effect.  It is certainly possible that it was not the drugs that caused Alzheimer’s but that the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s (sleeplessness and anxiety) that prompted use of the drugs.  The researchers tried to eliminate this by only examining Alzheimer’s sufferers who had not taken benzodiazepines for five years prior to being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Their use of the meds occurred five to 10 years before.  The scientists noted that greater risks associated with long-term use of the drugs supports the likelihood of direct causality.

Insomnia and anxiety are not pleasant, and these products provide relief to many sufferers.  However, as there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, it’s important that we do all erything we can to help prevent the disease.  At oprsent the opnly prioven tools are lifestyle issue—diet, nutrition, exercise

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