Anticholinergic drugs linked to dementia, Alzheimer’s reports that some of the most common treatments for depression, hay fever, bladder control and insomnia may cause an increased risk of developing dementia.

Researchers at the University of Washington tracked 3,434 seniors for eight years, carefully monitoring their use of drugs such as the sleep remedy Nytol and the antihistamines Benadryl and Piriton, chemical medicines known as anticholinergic drugs.

During the study, 23 percent of the subjects developed some form of dementia, in most cases Alzheimer’s disease.

Those who took the highest doses of anticholinergic drugs—about a fifth of which were bought without a prescription—had a 54 percent higher risk of developing dementia and a 63 percent higher risk for Alzheimer’s.

The researchers said that an increased risk was apparent in those who took at least 10 mg/day of doxepin, 4 mg/day of diphenhyramine, or 5 mg/day of oxybutynin—common components in antidepressants, sleeping pills, antihistamines and bladder control meds respectively—for more than three years.

Study leader, Professor Shelly Gray advised patients to consult their doctors, but added that healthcare providers should regularly review their patients’ drug regimens, including over-the-counter medications—and look for ways to use fewer anticholinergic medications at lower doses.

According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (, “Alzeimer’s is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, which produce the brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, breaks connections with other nerve cells and ultimately die.”

Deaths from Alzheimer’s in most modern western countries increased by 68 percent between 2000 and 2010. One in nine Americans over 65 and one in three over 85 are afflicted with Alzheimer’s symptoms.

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