Memory Loss Could Be Caused By Your Meds, Not Your Age

11/10/2012 09:22 am ET | Updated Nov 10, 2012

Do you take medicines to help you sleep or manage allergies? Many seniors do. But these same medicines could also be impacting your memory and ability to concentrate.

New research shows a connection between common medications to treat insomnia, anxiety, itching or allergies and problems with memory loss and concentration in the elderly.

Nearly 90 percent of those age 65 or older take at least one medication, significantly more than any other age group. Often, seniors take more than one medication, increasing the likelihood of adverse drug reactions.

Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, research chair at the Montreal Geriatric University Institute and associate professor of medicine and pharmacy at the University of Montreal, found that 18 percent of those over 65 complain of memory problems and are found to have mild cognitive deficits. According to her research, there may be a link between these symptoms and the taking of certain prescription medications.

Tannenbaum and a team of researchers recently investigated which medications are most likely to affect memory or other brain functions such as the ability to concentrate. After analyzing the results from 162 experiments on various drugs, Tannenbaum concluded that the recurrent use of several kinds of medications can indeed have a negative impact. Often, she found, this connection is overlooked in people who are otherwise healthy.

The 68 trials on benzodiazepines (which are generally used to treat anxiety and insomnia) that were studied by Tannenbaum's team revealed that these drugs consistently lead to shortcomings in memory and concentration. The 12 tests on antihistamines and the 15 tests on tricyclic antidepressants revealed repercussions that included a problem processing information.

For a list of the medications Tannenbaum considers to be the most dangerous, go here.

Most important to Tannenbaum, though, is that this information be communicated to patients.

"Seniors can play an important role in reducing the risks associated with these medications. Patients need this information so that they are more comfortable talking to their doctors and pharmacists about safer pharmacological or non-pharmacological treatment options," she explained.

She also notes that each case must be addressed on an individual basis: "Despite the known risks, it may be better for some patients to continue their medication instead of having to live with intolerable symptoms. Each individual has a right to make an informed choice based on preference and a thorough understanding of the effects the medications may have on their memory and function."

Over the years, all sorts of things have been blamed for memory loss in older people -- strokes, kidney disease and psychological problems, among other issues.

Among people of all ages, even mind-blowing sex may have an impact. According to a report in The Journal of Emergency Medicine, the temporary loss of memory caused by sex -- dubbed transient global amnesia -- can come on suddenly and cause you to forget everything over a short period of time.

Drugs Shown To Impact Memory
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