All drugs have side effects. Sometimes they are short-term and mild, like rashes, bad breath or smelly urine. Other times they are not as apparent and appear in the long run only.

Anticholinergic drugs have been known for a long time to impair cognitive function in the long run. Now researchers in the US have found new evidence that might help better explain this effect.

What are anticholinergic drugs and what are they used for?

Anticholinergics are a class of drugs that act through blocking the proper function of a chemical called acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter, which acts as a neuromodulator in the brain. It alters the way brain structures process information.

Anticholinergic Drugs

Anticholinergic drugs are used for a variety of conditions, from nausea and vomiting to asthma, bronchitis, insomnia, vertigo or even prostatitis.

The list of such drugs includes a series of over-the-counter drugs, including Benadryl (which is used for allergies), Dimetapp (for colds), as well as the antipsychotic Zyprexa or even the antidepressant Paxil.

Long-term effects

A recent study has taken a better look at the long-term effects of taking such drugs. The researchers analyzed brain scans of 451 older adults, with an average age of 73 years.

Part of the subjects – about 60 of them – had a history of taking anticholinergic drugs for at least a month. No participants were diagnosed with any cognitive problems, such as dementia or Alzheimers.

The brain scans of participants who took anticholinergic drugs showed lower brain activity in a region associated with memory. The same participants scored lower on tests of immediate memory recall and executive function compared to those not taking these drugs.

But those using such medications also had a reduced brain volume and thickness in some regions responsible for cognitive function, the researchers reported.

Alternatives should be considered

“There are definitely medical benefits to all of the anticholinergic medications we looked at, which could outweigh the cognitive risks,” said lead study author Shannon Risacher of the Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

“But if alternative therapies are available that provide effective treatment of these conditions, patients and doctors might want to consider avoiding anticholinergic medications,” she added.

-Thanks a lot for reading my article – Anticholinergic Drugs Linked to Reduced Brain Function. Hopefully, you read and enjoy it. Have a good day!