Benzodiazepines like diazepam and temazepam are associated with a significantly increased risk of dementia in the elderly, according to a new study.
Benzodiazepine increase risk of dementia, say scientists
Researchers from Harvard University and the University of Bordeaux have found that those taking benzodiazepine have a 50 per cent increased risk of developing dementia.
Around 1.5million people in the UK are believed the be taking the pills at any one time, sometimes for insomnia and anxiety but mostly for sedation ahead of surgery or procedures like dental work. Benzodiazepine should only be prescribed for short-term relief but patients often remain on the medication for years.
Researchers carried out a study on 1,063 men and women with an average age of 78, all of whom were free from dementia at the start of the trial. Writing in the British Medical Journal, they found that over the following 20 years 253 participants developed dementia, and 30 of these were benzodiazepine users.
They concluded that for every 100 people studied for a year, 4.8 who had taken the drugs developed dementia compared with 3.2 who had not.
The study took into account other factors that affect dementia such as cognitive decline, high blood pressure, diabetes, wine consumption, marital status, educational level, age and gender.
Benzodiazepines can only be obtained by prescription, and work by changing the way messages are transmitted to the brain. But scientists believe they also interfere with chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters, which may cause dementia.
Lead author PhD student Sophie Billioti de Gage said: “Benzodiazepines remain useful for the treatment of acute anxiety states and transient insomnia.
"However, increasing evidence shows that their use may induce adverse outcomes, mainly in elderly people, such as serious falls and fall related fractures.
“Our data add to the accumulating evidence that use of benzodiazepines is associated with increased risk of dementia, which, given the high and often chronic consumption of these drugs in many countries would constitute a substantial public health concern.”
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