Stopping Anxiety Medications is Potential Prevention Therapy for Alzheimers

The New York Times reported on a French & Canadian study linking benzodiazepine use to a higher risk of subsequently developing Alzheimer’s.

In the study of nearly 1,800 elderly patients diagnosed with Alzheimers and almost 7,200 patients in a control group researchers discovered that nearly half of the Alzheimer’s patients had used benzodiazepine. After crunching the numbers and taking into account the number of control patients who had also used the medications, researchers discovered that patients faced a “51 percent increase in the odds of a subsequent Alzheimer’s diagnosis among the benzodiazepine users.”

Further analysis revealed that the amount of medication used over the course of 6 or more years appeared to impact the risk. Researchers found that short-term, or occasional, use of drugs such as Valium and Xanax did not appear to have an correlation with later Alzheimer’s diagnosis. However, Paula Spahn writes, “… those who took the drugs longer were more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In older patients who took daily doses for 91 to 180 days, the risk rose 32 percent, compared to those who took none. In those who took daily doses for more than 180 days, the risk was 84 percent higher.”

The study was carefully conducted and reviewed and yet Spahn anticipated push-back from readers who feel they derive real benefits from taking benzodiazepine to combat insomnia and anxiety.

In an interview with Dr. Malaz Boustani, a geriatrician at Indiana University Health and a co-author of an editorial that accompanied the medical journal BMJ’s article, Spahn asked why people should consider giving up their sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medications. His reply was straight-forward. Take this study into account when deciding whether or not to take sleeping pills. And, Spahn reports he added, “If you’re willing to take the risk, O.K. You’re making an informed decision.

If you feel the risks are low, it’s your choice, but if there’s a family history of Alzheimers or dementia, discontinuing or not ever taking benzodiazepines could be beneficial in the long-term. “Stopping these medications is such an easy, cost-effective potential therapy,” Dr. Boustani told the NY Times.