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Study Links Anxiety Drugs to Alzheimer’s Disease


Sep. 24, 2014 NY Times: New Old Age

I swear I don’t go looking for alarming news about benzodiazepines, drugs widely prescribed for insomnia and anxiety. But it shows up with some frequency, so, mindful of your fervidly held views on the subject, I am donning a hazmat suit to bring you the latest findings from the medical journal BMJ.

They’re disturbing.

“The more the cumulative days of use, the higher the risk of later being diagnosed with dementia,” Dr. Antoine Pariente, a pharmacoepidemiologist at the University of Bordeaux and a co-author of the study, told me in an interview.

He and his colleagues reviewed medical records of almost 1,800 older people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the public health insurance program in Quebec, and compared them with nearly 7,200 control subjects. Most were over age 80.

About half those with Alzheimer’s and 40 percent of the control subjects had used benzodiazepines, the researchers found. That translated to a 51 percent increase in the odds of a subsequent Alzheimer’s diagnosis among the benzodiazepine users.

It was not short-term use that drove that finding: Older people who took prescribed doses for 90 days or fewer over the course of the study — patients were followed for six years or longer — had no increased risk.

But those who took the drugs longer were more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In older patients who took daily doses for 91 to 180 days, the risk rose 32 percent, compared to those who took none. In those who took daily doses for more than 180 days, the risk was 84 percent higher.

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