Common over-the-counter and prescription drugs linked to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

Yesterday, I reported how certain prescription drugs can increase the risk of suffering a debilitating fall, even among middle-aged adults. But really—that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the known, harmful side effects of drugs.

They cause a whole slew of other problems too, like cognitive impairment.

In fact, a recent study has found a strong link between popular over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia.

But before we get into the study’s details, let’s back up to talk more generally about why drugs commonly disrupt cognitive function…

Drugs commonly cause cognitive impairment

The list of drugs that can induce dementia-like symptoms reads like the Physician’s Desk Reference: anti-anxiety agents, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, antihistamines, anti-Parkinson’s drugs, cardiovascular drugs, corticosteroids, narcotics, and sedatives.

These drugs cause cognitive problems for two main reasons…

The first reason is simple: Patients take more drugs than ever. In fact, when I was in medical training during the 1970s, doctors often placed older patients on up to nine different drugs. Today, that number has nearly doubled to a shocking 15 different drugs.

And I vividly remember seeing many older patients in the hospital during my medical training with severe cognitive impairment. But when we took the patients off their prescribed drugs—for just a short period of time—it often led to a rapid return of mental clarity. Which gave them a new lease on life.

The second reason relates to how your body begins to slow down as you get older. In fact, as you age, your liver metabolizes drugs much less efficiently. And your kidneys may excrete and eliminate drugs from the body more slowly. So, over time, even supposedly “safe” drugs can accumulate in your body and gradually reach toxic levels, leading to serious cognitive problems.

Drugs called “anticholinergics” are particularly problematic. In fact, they already carry warnings for older people…

Anticholinergics pose serious long-term problems  

Anticholinergic drugs are used widely to treat or manage a variety of conditions, including allergies, asthma, chronic diarrhea, depression, overactive bladder, and Parkinson’s disease. They work by blocking a key neurotransmitter called acetylcholine in the parasympathetic nervous system. By blocking this neurotransmitter, these drugs inhibit involuntary bodily functions in the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, urinary tract, and other areas of the body.

Drugs with anticholinergic activity include:

  • Antidepressants
    • Amitriptyline (Elavil, Endep)
    • Desipramine (Norpramin)
    • Imipramine (Tofranil)
  • Antihistamines
    • Benadryl (Diphenhydramine)
    • Aller-Chlor (Chlorpheniramine)
    • Atarax (Hydroxyzine)
  • Incontinence medications
    • Oxybutynin (Ditropan XL)
    • Tolterodine (Detrol)
    • Trospium (Sanctura)
  • Muscle relaxants
    • Cyclobenzaprine (Amrix)
    • Carisoprodol (Soma)
  • Gastrointestinal medications
    • Loperamide (Imodium)

Data shows that anywhere from 8 to 37 percent of older adults in the U.S. take these drugs. Which brings us back to the AD and dementia epidemic…and that new study I mentioned at the beginning of this Daily Dispatch.

Study finds strong link between anticholinergic drugs and dementia

For the new study, researchers with the University of East Anglia analyzed medical records of more than 40,000 people diagnosed with dementia and compared them to the records of almost 300,000 people without dementia. It was the largest and most-detailed study of its kind into the long-term impact of anticholinergic use in relation to dementia.

It turns out, people with dementia were 30 percent more likely to have been exposed to anticholinergic drugs used for bladder control, depression, and Parkinson’s disease…even when taken up to 20 years prior to the dementia diagnosis.

Plus, the association between these drugs and dementia increased with greater exposure. In other words, the longer people took the drugs and the higher the dosage, the greater their risk of developing dementia.

Big pharma invents another condition for their new drug

It’s particularly troubling to me why anyone would take an anticholinergic drug for a supposedly “overly active bladder” (OAB), a condition that big pharma basically invented in the mid-1990s when they realized that drugs could be prescribed to “treat” it. It was a bit of a challenge for them because they had to first convince doctors and the public that OAB exists, before they could begin convincing them that their drugs worked for it!

At the time, I was working with Dr. C. Everett Koop, the U.S. Surgeon General during the Reagan-Bush administrations, on some national public health education programs. My friend Mark Hollander of Online Communications approached me about putting together a program to educate the public about OAB. (I still use a nice canvas beach bag that says, “Online Communications,” which I got as a gift.)

Mark had done some excellent video programs on AIDS/HIV, the polio vaccine, and other topics for the general public. And I agreed to the challenge of joining his effort, although I didn’t really believe in OAB as a condition that needed to be treated with a dangerous drug.

So, Mark had his hands full, so to speak, with the new bladder assignment. He did end up getting the contract to produce the educational program. But it became a mixed blessing. And eventually, he just decided to “let it go,” so to speak.

So, big pharma retreated to their old-fashioned approach of badgering and bludgeoning doctors to prescribe their new OAB drugs instead.

My advice?

Never resort to taking one of these drugs—for any condition, for any period of time.

And—if you have a history of taking these drugs or a family history of dementia, make sure to check out my Alzheimer’s Prevention and Repair Protocol. This online learning tool details all of the drug-free, cutting-edge strategies to prevent, treat, or even reverse these devastating brain diseases. Simply click here to learn more about this online learning tool, or to enroll today!


“Anticholinergic drugs and dementia in older adults.” BMJ, 2018; k1722 doi: 10.1136/bmj.k1722

“Anticholinergic and Antispasmodic Drugs.” Medicinenet, 10/2019. (