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Cognitive disorders often begin subtly but progress until they significantly impede the affected individual’s quality of life. It is important to understand the various cognitive disorders, their symptoms and relevant treatment options.
A class of medications previously linked to cognitive impairment in older adults also appears to negatively affect their physical functioning according to investigators from the Regenstrief Institute, the Indiana University Center for Aging Research, the University of East Anglia and several other United Kingdom institutions.
In a systemic review of more than a decade of studies on the effects of drugs with anticholinergic properties, they report that these drugs have a significant adverse effect on both cognitive and physical functioning, including the ability to feed and dress oneself. Anticholinergic medications affect the brain by blocking acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter. They are sold over the counter as sleep aids and bladder leakage preventives and prescribed for many diseases including hypertension and congestive heart failure.
The review found that these 46 studies, which followed 60,944 patients, showed only limited evidence of a connection between anticholinergics and delirium, a short-term decline in cognition. Additionally …
This is the first review to assess the effects of medications with anticholinergic properties on physical function and delirium. The authors say it also provides an important update on cognitive function and mortality.
“Anticholinergics, both over-the-counter and prescription medications, impact the lives of older adults in ways doctors, patients and their families may not realize,” said Dr. Campbell, who is also a research assistant professor in the Purdue University College of Pharmacy. “I don't see use of these medications declining. Doctors and patients are familiar with these drugs and unfortunately are far less familiar with equally effective alternatives.”
For example, Dr. Campbell advised, rather than taking sleeping pills with anticholinergic properties, one could refrain from napping, limit evening exercise and remove distractions from the bedroom. Institutions like hospitals and nursing homes could work to keep older adults awake and stimulated during the day, naturally encouraging nighttime slumber.
All medicines come with their own set of side effects, and cognitive disorder treatments are no different. Many of these drugs are powerful, and it can result in drowsiness, insomnia and upset stomach, to name but a few of the common side effects.
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