A new study has found that elderly people who have been on a class of drugs called benzodiazepines for a long time to keep their anxiety under control or induce sleep are at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The drug Benzodiazepines is marketed under the names Ativan, Klonopin, Xanax and Valium. The drug is widely used to treat agitation, anxiety and insomnia.
Scientists say sleep problem and anxiety can be early signs of Alzheimer’s disease in the older people.
The study was conducted by French and Canadian researchers.
For the study, the researchers formed two groups of older people with and without Alzheimer’s using benzodiazepine.
The first group had 1,796 elderly people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and the second one had 7,184 people who had no such diagnosis but both the groups were dependant on benzodiazepine.
The benzodiazepines drug forms used by the researchers for the study included:
- Short-acting anti-anxiety medications: Alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan) and oxazepam (Seresta)
- Longer-acting anti-seizure and hypnotic drugs (frequently used to treat insomnia): Triazolam (Halcion), temazepam (Restoril), nitrazepam (Mogadon), midazolam (Versed), flurazepam (Dalmane) and Clonazepam (Klonopin)
In the study, the researchers have not included the widely prescribed benzodiazepines drug forms marketed as Lunesta, Ambien and Sonata, all termed as “atypical benzodiazepines”.
The researchers compared the pattern of benzodiazepine use in both the groups and concluded the following findings:
Those participants, living independently in the Canadian province of Quebec, who were 66-year-old and above and were on low dose of benzodiazepine medication (or on high doses but for a brief period or infrequently) didn’t witness any signs of Alzheimer’s risk rising five years after they were first prescribed with the drug.
However, those elderly participants who frequently consumed long-acting benzodiazepines and that too in high doses and regularly over several months showed a glaring result.
The researchers derived the conclusion from the findings that the high intensity of usage of benzodiazepine by the participants steadily led to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s at the end of a five-year period after an initial prescription.
The participants who took cumulative equivalent of daily doses for a period of three to six months over a five-year period were about 32 percent more likely to develop the memory loss disease than those who took none. However, the drug use put 84 percent at risk of Alzheimer’s to those participants who took the cumulative equivalent of a complete daily dose for over six months.
According to the researchers, the study design was not aimed at establishing that more intensive use of the medications like Benzodiazepines can cause Alzheimer’s disease but it provides a good evidence to prove their association.
The study was published on Tuesday in the journal BMJ.