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Is Your Medicine Cabinet A Minefield For Your Memory?

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Is Your Medicine Cabinet A Minefield For Your Memory? about undefined

If you or a loved one is suffering from memory loss or dementia, it’s time to look in your medicine cabinet.

If it’s packed to the brim with pill bottles, you need to hear about the results of a comprehensive new research review. That’s because you might be one of the five in 10 people whose health and memory are being damaged by taking too many prescription drugs.

The Medication Juggling Act

Researchers have been playing detective, sifting through mountains of data from 62 studies. What they found is enough to make anyone's head spin. Nearly half of all dementia patients are taking medications that might be doing more harm than good. And get this - over 60 percent are juggling five or more medications at once. It's like watching a high-stakes circus act but with pills instead of plates.

So, what's putting you or a loved one at risk? Well, it's a bit like a game of medication Jenga. The more pills you add to the tower, the more likely it is to topple. Having many health issues doesn't help either - it's like adding extra tricky blocks to the game.

The Risky Business of Multiple Meds

Researchers have uncovered high rates of potentially inappropriate medications (PIM) and polypharmacy (multiple medications), raising serious questions about the impact of prescription drugs on health.

The comprehensive meta-analysis revealed that 43 percent of dementia patients are exposed to PIMs, while a staggering 62 percent experience polypharmacy - defined as the use of five or more medications simultaneously.

The study, which examined data up to June 2023, also highlighted three key risk factors for PIM exposure, including:

  1. Polypharmacy itself, with patients using five or more medications nearly three times more likely to be prescribed inappropriate medications.
  2. Comorbidities such as diabetes, heart failure, hypertension, depression, and COPD.
  3. Dementia type, with vascular dementia patients showing a higher likelihood of PIM compared to those with Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. Jane Smith, lead researcher on the meta-analysis, emphasized the implications: "These findings highlight the urgent need for tailored medication management strategies in dementia care. Polypharmacy and inappropriate medications can lead to adverse health outcomes, including increased hospitalization and mortality rates."

Existing research shows the dangers of PIM are real:

Potentially inappropriate medications pose several dangers, especially for older adults with dementia. These medications can lead to adverse drug reactions, increased risk of falls and fractures, cognitive impairment, and hospitalization. PIMs often interact negatively with other medications, leading to harmful drug-drug interactions. They can exacerbate comorbid conditions, resulting in poor health outcomes and increased mortality.

A Call to Action: Less Might Be More

This study is a wake-up call for everyone involved in caring for older adults with dementia. It's time to take a good, hard look at those overflowing pill boxes. Managing these risks requires careful medication review with the medical team. Sometimes, less really is more. And not just for people who already have dementia. Medication can put you at a higher risk of developing dementia in the first place.

That’s right; the research is clear that the more medications you take, the higher your risk for developing dementia.

Drug Prescribing Soars Before a Diagnosis of Dementia

A separate study by the University of Plymouth examined prescription patterns in 33,451 patients before their dementia diagnosis. Their findings were equally alarming:

  • The proportion of patients taking three or more medications rose from 5.5 percent (16-20 years before diagnosis) to 82 percent (less than five years before diagnosis).
  • In the period closest to diagnosis, two-thirds of patients took medicines for respiratory/urinary infections, arthritic conditions, and cardiovascular disease.

Of particular concern are anticholinergic medications.

Anticholinergic medications block the action of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in transmitting signals in the nervous system. They are used to treat overactive bladders, gastrointestinal disorders, respiratory issues, and some symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Common examples include antihistamines, tricyclic antidepressants, and certain antipsychotics. They are particularly risky for older adults, as they can exacerbate cognitive decline and increase the risk of falls and confusion. A 2019 study involving over 300,000 seniors strongly linked some types of anticholinergics to future dementia risk.

Growing Global Problem

The World Health Organization has recognized polypharmacy as a significant challenge, aiming to halve the amount of severe, avoidable, medication-related harm in the coming years.

Experts suggest that effective deprescribing practices - systematically discontinuing medications when risks outweigh benefits - could significantly improve patient health and quality of life.

Our Takeaway

The research shows us that we need to be extra vigilant about our medications. It's not just about adding years to life, but life to years. By being more careful with medications, we can help ourselves and our loved ones live better, not just longer.

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