Popular drugs used for many common issues linked to cognitive decline

A popular class of medication used for everything from sleep and anxiety issues to allergies, high blood pressure, and even overactive bladder, has been linked to memory problems in users, particularly those already at risk of Alzheimer's disease. The findings are particularly concerning in light of how readily available this class of drug is — you don't need a prescription for many of these products, which are available over-the-counter in grocery stores and pharmacies.

The latest research on this class of drugs, which are called anticholinergics, was recently published by the American Academy of Neurology. In the study, researchers explain that taking these drugs has been linked to memory issues and mild thinking problems, something that was found to be worse in people who have markers for or are otherwise at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

There are more than 100 drugs in this class, including common ones like hydroxyzine (used for anxiety) and diphenhydramine (used for allergies). The study found that in people taking at least one of these drugs, they were at a 47-percent greater risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI) compared to those who didn't take these drugs.

Mild cognitive impairment can be an early warning sign for the eventual development of dementia like Alzheimer's disease, a growing societal burden expected to get worse as people continue to live to older ages. The study involved 688 participants with an average of 74 years who, at the time of the study's start, didn't have any memory issues.

Reducing how much of these drugs are used is a preventative step toward avoiding this unwanted outcome, but one big question remains: can reducing or stopping use after symptoms appear reverse the issue, or are the changes permanent? Additional research will be necessary to determine whether this is the case.