Benzodiazepene drugs—widely prescribed for conditions including insomnia, anxiety and depression—have been associated with a 50% increase in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study published in theBritish Medical Journal.
The effect also appeared to be exposure-dependent: people who took benzodiazepines longer were at even greater risk, suggesting that the drugs themselves, and not some secondary factor like a mental health diagnosis, are promoting the development of dementia. Researchers at the University of Montreal, Canada, and University of Bordeaux, France, made the discovery when they compared past benzodiazepine use between 1796 people with a first diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and 7184 age-matched controls identified in the Quebec national health insurance database.
All the study participants had been followed for at least six years before they developed Alzheimer’s disease, and cumulative doses of benzodiazepines were estimated based on the amount of times the drugs had been prescribed.
People who had ever used a benzodiazepine were 50% more at risk to develop Alzheimer’s disease, and for those who had taken a total of more than 180 doses of a benzodiazepine, the risk was 80% higher. The study authors stress the huge importance of limiting benzodiazepine prescriptions in older people, and, if they are deemed necessary, to only use them for a period less than 3 months. (Source: British Medical Journal, 2014; 349 (sep09 2): g5205 DOI:10.1136/bmj.g5205)