Alzheimer’s May Be Linked to Benzodiazepine Use
A study by French and Canadian scientists has found evidence that people who take benzodiazepines have a significantly higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease currently affects about 36 million people worldwide and this number is expected to double every 20 years, reaching 115 million by 2015.
The study, recently published in the British Medical Journal, involved nearly 9,000 people aged 66 and older, including 1,796 with Alzheimer’s. Researchers found that patients prescribed benzodiazepines for any length of time were 51% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s five years or more later, compared with someone who had never taken the drug. Patients taking benzodiazepines for three to six months were 32% more likely to develop the condition, with the figure rising to 84% if they took the medication for more than six months.
This has shocking implications. The researchers warned:
“Although it cannot be definitively proven that the drugs are causing Alzheimer’s there is a strong suspicion of possible direct causation. The drugs should be not be taken for more than three months in light of these findings. ”
Benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Librium are common medications used to treat insomnia, agitation and anxiety, all of which can be early signs of impending Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly. These drugs reduce the signals between brain cells and have a calming effect on the brain, muscles and heart rate.
The findings could mean that the drugs cause the disease, but it is more likely that the drugs are being given to people who may be already ill. In other words, we are seeing an association, rather than a cause. However, other experts said the results might reflect that people who are already in the early stages of Alzheimer’s are often treated for sleep problems and anxiety, and this is confusing the findings. Many may also have dementia.
Researcher Professor Ashton stated:
“If you take benzos, they dampen down neurotransmitters, chemical messengers in the brain. It may be that after you stop taking the drugs, these neurotransmitters come back, but they are not as good. The point is we don’t know.”
Physicians do not always review prescriptions and patients can end up on benzodiazepines for long periods. This is problematic in many countries, including the US. These findings illustrate the need to look at prescription habits in an effort to reduce people’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease along with finding alternative approaches for dealing with overall health issues. More studies are needed to help the aging population find solutions for multiple health issues.
Discuss your concerns and questions with a health care professional, including a review of all medications and holistic treatment options available for various disorders. Prescription drugs should not be abruptly discontinued unless under advisement and supervision of a physician.