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Why Common Medications May Be Slowing You Down

If you take medications for your health, you would think they would work to make you better, or fix some problem you have. However, a recent study shows that common drugs used for common problems may be harmful, especially for the elderly. Let’s take a closer look at the results from this recent research . . .

Common drugs used for common problems could be harmful for the elderly.   Drugs that have been used to relieve the symptoms of acid reflux, urinary incontinence and Parkinson’s disease have been found to “slow down” elderly people in their daily physical activities, according to recent research. 

Two new studies have been conducted that show anticholinergics, which is a commonly prescribed group of drugs, could lower thinking skills in individuals more than for someone who is not taking these prescriptions. 

These reports were conducted by researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina.

Why does this happen?
Anticholinergic drugs stop acetylcholine, which is a chemical that helps communication between the nerve cells and the brain.  It does this by binding the receptors in nerve cells. 

The Study
More than 3,000 people averaging the age of 78 that took the anticholinergics were noticeably slower at walking and needed help in their routine daily activities.

"These results were true even in older adults who have normal memory and thinking abilities," said Dr. Kaycee M. Sink, the study’s author.   "For older adults taking a moderately anticholinergic medication, or two or more mildly anticholinergic medications, their function was similar to that of someone three to four years older."

Some of the medications used in this study were:

  • Adalat or Procardia – blood pressure medication with nifedipine
  • Zantac – stomach antacid medication with ranitidine
  • Detrol – incontinence medication with tolterodine

The findings were presented at the recent American Geriatrics Society annual meeting, in Washington, D.C.

Another study by Wake Forest
Wake Forest also conducted another study that was published in the April, 2008 Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.  This study indicated that older nursing home residents that took medications for dementia and anticholingeric medications actually decreased in function 50 percent faster than those who were only treated for the dementia.

According to Sink, the assistant professor of internal medicine-gerontology at Wake Forest, "Over a year's time, the decline we observed would represent a resident going from requiring only limited assistance in an activity to being completely dependent, or from requiring only supervision to requiring extensive assistance in an activity."

In this study, the elderly completed two consecutive prescriptions for cholinesterase inhibitors, which is a family of drugs for dementia, and which increases levels of acetylcholine. 

Medications involved in this second study: (all used to treat Alzheimer’s or Dementia)

  • Donepezil (Aricept)
  • Galantamine (Razadyne)
  • Rivastigmine (Exelon)
  • Tacrine (Cognex)

Almost ten percent of the participants were also taking either oxybutynin or tolterodine, which are two of the most commonly prescribed drugs for urinary incontinence.

"The two drugs are pharmacological opposites, which led us to hypothesize that the simultaneous treatment of dementia and incontinence could lead to reduced effectiveness of one or both drugs,” Sink said.

This study comes as a shock, especially because an estimated 33 percent of people with dementia are also taking medication to control incontinence. 

The results of these studies indicate that before prescribing these medications to older adults, doctors need to consider the consequences of taking anticholingeric medications.

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