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Previously, I’ve written about a common class of medication that people over 65, especially women, should avoid.
These drugs are prescribed quite often because they can treat such a wide range of conditions, including Parkinson’s, urinary incontinence, COPD and irritable bowel syndrome.
The problem with these medications is that they dramatically increase your risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Efforts have been made to raise doctors’ awareness of the dangers these drugs pose to their patients.
Unfortunately, according to a recent study, doctors aren’t always paying attention.
What are anticholinergics, and why are they bad for you?
Anticholinergic drugs are also known as antispasmodics.
They work by blocking acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter that facilitates communication between cells and neurons. They stop the involuntary nerve impulses that cause things like muscle cramps, urination, coughing and sneezing.
But there’s one problem.
Acetylcholine is also critical for memory function. That’s why using anticholinergics can put you at higher risk for developing Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and ultimately Alzheimer’s disease.
The brains of Alzheimer’s patients show a 90 percent loss of acetylcholine.
Doctors aren’t reading the health alerts on anticholinergics
Researchers have known of the dangers associated with anticholinergics for a while — especially for older patients.
That’s why a system was put into place utilizing electronic health record alerts aimed at letting a provider know that — firstly, they’re prescribing a high-risk medication, and secondly — to list safer alternatives medications they can offer patients and “deprescribe” the mind-stealing anticholinergics.
But according to Dr. Noll Campbell, a research scientist at the Indiana University Center for Aging Research, there is a big problem with the alert system — and it centers around the doctors…
Her research team conducted a randomized trial that looked at medication records in a group of primary care clinics in Indianapolis.
They compared current medication records with previous year’s records to see if there were any changes in how often doctors prescribed anticholinergic drugs.
When comparing patient records in a control group vs. those in an intervention group where doctors received electronic alerts regarding the danger of these drugs, they found no significant reduction in prescriptions for dangerous medications in the intervention group.
They did find something else, though, that was both revealing and alarming…
And this is that 85 percent of the alerts to doctors and 95 percent of the alerts to medical assistants went unread.
How to advocate for yourself and safe prescriptions
It’s unclear why the doctors in this study were not reading this crucial information on a drug that they prescribe every day.
But one thing is clear: no matter how much you trust your doctor, YOU are your own best advocate when it comes to avoiding these brain-stealing drugs.
Common prescription anticholinergics include:
- Clidinium and dicylomine (for irritable bowel syndrome)
- Toviaz and flaxovate (for overactive bladder)
- Orphenadrine (for muscle pain and spasms)
- Cogentin and trihexyphenidyl (for Parkinson’s disease)
- Spiriva (to treat COPD)
And don’t think over-the-counter medications are off the hook, either. Many of them, especially cold and allergy remedies, rely on anticholinergic drugs, including Benadryl and Claritin.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to OTC cold medicines, all of which are backed by science. Here are some supplements and other natural immune boosters you can try, so you don’t need that brain-draining cold medicine as often.
Editor’s note: While you’re doing all the right things to protect your brain as you age, make sure you don’t make the mistake 38 million Americans do every day — by taking a drug that robs them of an essential brain nutrient! Click here to discover the truth about the Cholesterol Super-Brain!
Multicomponent behavioral intervention to reduce exposure to anticholinergics in primary care older adults — Journal of the American Geriatrics Society