• Dementia: Long-Term Use of Pills for Anxiety and Sleep Linked

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    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, suggests a new study.

    Up to 43 percent of older adults use benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, Ativan, etc.) for anxiety and insomnia, often chronically, even though their long-term effectiveness and safety remain unproven.

    International guidelines recommend short-term use of benzodiazepines, because they cause withdrawal symptoms that make discontinuation problematic. Despite this, many seniors take them for years instead of a few weeks, as is recommended.

    Use of Benzodiazepines for Three Months or More Linked to Alzheimer's

    Older adults who used benzodiazepines for three months or more had a 51 percent greater risk of Alzheimer's disease than those who did not. The risks increased the longer the drugs were used, as well as with long-acting formulations.

    It's been suggested that the drugs might be linked to dementia because anxiety or sleeping issues may be early indicators of Alzheimer's. However, this study accounted for earlier diagnosis of those conditions, and an independent link between long-term benzodiazepine use and Alzheimer's still emerged. The …

    International medical guidelines recommend the use of benzodiazepines as treatment for anxiety disorders and transcient insomnia, but caution that they are not meant for long-term use, and should not be taken steadily for more than three months. But many patients continue to take these drugs for years. In addition to their cognitive effects, benzodiazepines are widely implicated in the national epidemic of opioid pain medication overdoses and fatalities that result from mixing them with alcohol and opioid drugs.

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