According to a new study from the University of Eastern Finland and the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, the use of certain medications, often prescribed to treat epilepsy, can increase a patient’s risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. The results were noticeable after one year of continuous use of the antiepileptic medications. A year of taking the medication resulted in a 15 percent higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s and a 30 percent higher chance of developing dementia.
The study examined Finnish patients who had been diagnosed with either Alzheimer’s or dementia in comparison to a control group who was diagnosed with neither. The study is part of the nationwide registration-based MEDALZ study. The experimental group included 70,718 persons diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in Finland during 2005–2011 and the control group was made up of 282,862 participants without dementia.
Another study was used to determine the connection between the drugs and dementia, including 20,325 participants diagnosed with dementia between 2004–2011, and a control group of 81,300.
Certain types of antiepileptic medications function by impairing brain function. This includes many different aspects of the information processing systems in the brain. The researchers compared the effects of many different antiepileptic treatments and it was these drugs, the ones that impair normal information processing functions in the brain, that led participants to show an increased risk of developing both Alzheimer’s and dementia. Overall, these medications were related to a 20 percent increased risk of Alzheimer’s and a 60 percent increased risk of dementia.
The dosage was also related to the severity of the risk increase. The higher the dose a patient was prescribed nearly directly translated to a higher risk of dementia. These risks were limited to the antiepileptic drugs that impair cognitive function, however.
“More research should be conducted into the long-term cognitive effects of these drugs, especially among older people,” says Heidi Taipale, senior researcher from the University of Eastern Finland.
So far, the connections made with this study are solely correlational and further experiments will be needed to determine the exact brain mechanisms or potential biological predispositions for the connection.
These risks are not only associated with patients who suffer from epilepsy, despite the specific-sounding drug name. Antiepileptic drugs are also used to treat patients with neuropathic pain, bipolar disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.
This new study is the largest so far on the topic and it’s the first to explore the association between the drugs and dementia in terms of regularity of use, dose, and comparing the risks between antiepileptic drugs with or without cognitive-impairing effects. The results were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
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