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Drugs linked with cognitive impairment

1st February 2006

The results of a new study have indicated a potential link between drugs used on elderly patients and mild mental impairment.

Anticholinergic drugs are usually given to older patients to help with the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, incontinence and Parkinson's and include antidepressants, painkillers and epilepsy medications.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that although they did not increase the risk of developing dementia, the drugs did lead to a "significant" decline in mental functioning.

Volunteers taking the drugs displayed lower cognitive functioning than the other group, with 80 per cent experiencing some mental impairment.

"Anticholinergic drugs remained the most highly significant predictor of this condition,' explained Karen Ritchie, research director.

"Doctors should assess current use of anticholinergic drugs in elderly people with mild cognitive impairment before considering treatment for dementia.'

The drugs are thought to have a negative impact on response times, language skills, facial memory and space perceptions, although researchers admitted that further studies need to be carried out before any official link is confirmed.