If you’re worried about developing dementia as you age, you might already know how to lower your risk of developing this devastating brain-wasting disease in older age.
Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep every night, doctors will tell you.
But they might not tell you to check the medications you take every day for cognitive side effects like confusion and memory loss.
In recent years, several large population studies have linked a higher risk of dementia with anticholinergic drugs. This class of drugs includes Ditropan and Ditropan XL, which are commonly prescribed to elderly adults with overactive bladders and urinary issues.
For example, a study in 2015 found that people who took an anticholinergic for 3 years or more had a 54% higher dementia risk than people on the same dose for less than 3 months.
More recently, another study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found a nearly 50% higher risk of dementia for elderly people who took higher doses of Ditropan or other anticholinergics.
Experts have long known that people on Ditropan and other anticholinergics commonly develop confusion and memory loss, but the JAMA study was the first to investigate the long-term risks.
The problem is that anticholinergics block the action of acetylcholine, which is involved in memory and learning in the brain. In other parts of the body, acetylcholine stimulates nerves that control the bladder, which is why blocking it helps prevent urinary incontinence.
For people who take high doses of Ditropan or similar medications for long periods of time, these studies suggest that it might have harmful side effects on brain function, especially for the elderly.
If you are concerned, talk to your doctor about the risk. There may be alternative medications that are equally effective, but pose little risk of dementia because they do not cross the blood-brain barrier so easily.