Common Drugs Linked to Risk of Dementia

Some common medications—including ones that may be in your medicine cabinet at this very moment—have been linked to a risk of dementia. That’s not to say that these drugs directly cause dementia; however, many drugs have been shown to contribute to the development of memory and cognition problems or mimic the symptoms.

Some studies have found dementia associated with the use of medications can be reversed or the risk may be reduced, although the research on this topic is mixed. If you or a loved one has been experiencing signs of dementia, the best bet is to talk to your doctor about the medications you are taking.

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Drugs linked to dementia

Generally, drugs linked to dementia have anticholinergic properties, which means they block acetylcholine, a chemical in the brain that is crucial for memory. In a recent study, researchers examined the brains of 451 adults and found that brain activity in people who were taking anticholinergic drugs did not function as well as the brains of those who did not take the drugs. In fact, according to one of the study’s authors, researcher Shannon Risacher, PhD, assistant professor of radiology and imaging sciences at the Indiana University School of Medicine, “We saw an increased risk of getting dementia over time.” 

Overall, the authors found that individuals who took the medications were “four times more likely to develop either mild cognitive impairment or dementia” compared with participants who did not take the meds. Changes in brain function were evident in as little as six months.

More than 100 over-the-counter and prescription drugs fall into the category of having anticholinergic properties, but they vary in their effect on memory. In addition, experts categorize the anticholinergics into three groups ranging from lowest to highest anticholinergic effect. The risk of experiencing dementia-like symptoms is greater if you are taking drugs in the second or third group and/or if you are taking more than one anticholinergic, common among older adults.

Drugs that may cause dementia-like symptoms

Here is a sampling of the drugs that may cause, contribute to, or mimic the symptoms of dementia. These drugs are part of what is known as the Anti-cholinergic Burden Scale (ABS). Talk to your healthcare provider if you have noticed any signs of dementia and/or if you are taking any of these medications. 

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Antianxiety drugs: alprazolam (Xanax), bupropion (Wellbutrin)

Anticonvulsants: carbamazepine (Tegretol), oxcarbazepine (Trilepta)
Antidepressants: amitriptyline (Elavil), desipramine (Norpramin), doxepin (Sinequan), imipramine (Tofranil), nortriptyline (Pamelor), paroxetine (Paxil), trazodone (Desyrel), trimipramine (Surmontil), venlafaxine (Effexor)

Antihistamines (used mainly to treat symptoms of allergies—indoor, seasonal, food): brompheniramine (Dimetapp), cetirizine (Zyrtec), chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), clemastine (Tavist), dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), loratadine (Claritin), promethazine (Phenergan)

Antipsychotic drugs: alprazolam (Xanax), aripiprazole (Abilify), haloperidol (Haldol), risperidone (Risperdal), chlorpromazine (Thorazine), clozapine (Clozaril), olanzapine (Zyprexa), quetiapine (Seroquel), thioridazine (Mellaril)

Bladder control/overactive bladder: fesoterodine (Toviaz), oxybutynin (Ditropan), solifenacin (Yesicare), tolterodine (Detrol), trospium (Sanctura)

Heart and blood pressure drugs: atenolol (Tenormin), captopril (Capoten), digoxin (Lanoxin), furosemide (Lasix), metoprolol (Lopressor), nifedipine (Procardia)

Heartburn and ulcer drugs: cimetidine (Tagamet), ranitidine (Zantac)

Pain killers/opiates: codeine (Contin), fentanyl (Duragesic), meperidine (Demerol), morphine (MS Contin)

Sedatives/sleeping pills:
diazepam (Valium), doxylamine (Unisom)

Miscellaneous drugs: amantadine (Symmetrel; antiviral), cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril; muscle relaxant), hydrocortisone (Cortef; hormone); loperamide (Immodium; antidiarrheal), prednisone (Deltasone; glucocorticoid), warfarin (Coumadin; blood thinner)

If you are taking any of these drugs or others that have been linked to dementia or dementia-like symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider about alternatives, including natural supplements or other nonpharmaceutical remedies. Tell your doctor about any medications, supplements, or natural remedies you are already taking. This is critical information, because two or more of these substances can interact in ways that may make symptoms worse, have an impact on dosing, and/or cause new or serious complications. 

Aging Brain Care. Anti-cholinergic Burden Scale.
Common meds and dementia: how strong is the link? WebMD 2016 May 9

By Deborah Mitchell| October 11, 2017
Categories:  Care

About the Author

Deborah Mitchell

Deborah Mitchell

Deborah is a freelance health writer who is passionate about animals and the environment. She has authored, co-authored, and written more than 50 books and thousands of articles on a wide range of topics. Currently she lives in Tucson, Arizona. Visit her at

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