Commonly used drugs contribute to more doctor visits and hospital visits, according to research findings. Anticholinergic medications commonly used by older adults have been found to be linked with an increase in hospital, doctor, and emergency room visits. Drugs with anticholinergic properties are often prescribed for chronic conditions including depression, anxiety, pain, allergy, incontinence, or sleep problems. Nearly half of older adults are on some type of anticholinergic medications, and some patients are taking two or more different types of these drugs.
Research lead and investigator Noll Campbell explained, “Anticholinergics, the medications that block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter, have previously been implicated as a potential cause of cognitive impairment, by us and by other researchers… This is the first study to calculate cumulative anticholinergic burden and determine that as burden increases, so does healthcare utilization in the U.S. — both outpatient and inpatient.”
The researchers suggest that taking a drug with anticholinergic properties increased inpatient admission by 11 percent over the course of a year. If a medication had strong anticholinergic properties then the risk of inpatient admission increased 33 percent.
Malaz Boustani, who developed of one of the most widely used tools to pinpoint the anticholinergic properties and anticholinergic load of specific drugs, explained, “As baby boomers age and the number of older adults increases, it is especially important to recognize the negative impact of anticholinergic medications on the aging brain and healthcare delivery cost. There is a powerful association between these harmful medications and potentially avoidable cognitive impairment and increased visits to the doctor, the ER, and the hospital.”
Dr. Campbell concluded, “Individuals taking anticholinergics should talk with their doctors or pharmacists about possible alternatives. This new study provides stronger motivation to design and conduct de-prescribing studies to determine safe ways to take individuals off anticholinergic medications in the interests of preserving brain health and decreasing healthcare utilization rates and their potential costs.”