Alzheimer’s disease is the commonest cause of memory loss and dementia. We do not yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s. However, we do know that the neurotransmitter acetylcholine is important in brain processing and memory. We also know that the acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (drugs like Aricept<donezepil> , Exelon <rivastigmine> and Razadyne <galantamine>), which inhibit the breakdown of acetylcholine, do provide a symptomatic improvement in affected patients.
It is also known that many drugs can cause and/or exacerbate memory loss in elderly patients:
Anticholinergics block the effects of acetylcholine, causing confusion. They also negate the beneficial effects of aceylcholinesterase inhibitors in Alzheimer’s patients. These drugs are commonly prescribed for urinary frequency and urgency, and include Ditropan <oxybutynin> and Vesicare <solifenacin>. The tricyclics, including Elavil <amitriptyline> and Pamelor <nortriptyline>, commonly prescribed for insomnia and headaches, also have anticholinergic properties.
Benzodiazepine drugs like Xanax <alprazolam> Restoril <temazepam> and Klonopin <clonazepam>, most commonly prescribed for anxiety and insomnia, can also cause and/or exacerbate memory loss because of drowsiness and inattention.
A recent study of Alzheimer’s patients living independently in the community showed that as many 17% were taking anticholinergic drug and almost 9% were taking benzodiazepines.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, 16% of patients were taking both an acetycholineresterase (cholinergic) and an anticholinergic drug at the same time!
The bottom line here is that you should always bring a complete and updated list of all your medications with you to doctors appointments!
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