As we age, we're more likely to take medications...to control high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis pain, etc. The medications can help us feel better and keep disease under control. They may also have negative side effects, however. One major concern is the effect on our cognition, the ability to think, understand, learn, plan, and remember.
According to the National Institutes of Health, changes to our bodies as we age can influence the way that medications affect the ways our brains work. One, our brains change, both in terms of physical structure and ability. Two, our digestive and circulatory systems slow down, potentially affecting the speed at which medications enter and leave our bodies. Three, weight changes can affect the amount of medication we need and the length of time it stays in our system. It's not just our bodies that may be problematic, however. Medications also interact with each other and with everything we consume including food, supplements, and alcohol.
The American Geriatrics Society, an organization representing medical professionals who specialize in serving older adults, has identified a list of medications that are potentially inappropriate for older adults. Two types of medications, "anticholinergics" and "benzodiazepines," are often used to treat common health issues like asthma, depression, allergies, and sleep disorders. They may, however, adversely affect our brains resulting in confusion, memory loss, and other cognitive problems. Sometimes these symptoms are mistaken for signs of an irreversible dementia.
If you are concerned about the effect of your medications on your brain and cognition, seek professional advice from you healthcare professional/pharmacist. Suddenly stopping any medication can be dangerous!
Click here for a handout that includes additional information from the National Institute of Health on the potential of some medications to affect brain health.
Click here to download the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) "Beers List" of "Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults."