7 Common Brain-Toxic Drugs Older Adults Should Use With Caution

Want to help keep the brain of someone you love working as well as possible?

Then you should take a look at this article which I published at NextAvenue.org:

7 Common Drugs that Are Toxic for Your Brain

In this article, I explain the brain health risks of using anticholinergics, and then I list seven types of drugs that older adults use surprisingly often. They include over-the-counter medications, as well as several commonly prescribed types of medication.

These are drugs that are on the Beer’s List and should be used with caution in older adults. However, I find that older adults are often prescribed these drugs! So it can be worthwhile for families to learn to spot these drugs, and minimize their use.

Why You Should Learn to Spot Anticholinergics

Anticholinergics are drugs that block acetylcholine, a key neurotransmitter in the body. This leads to lower brain function, which people often experience as drowsiness.

Sometimes that sedation is why people take the drugs, and a little sleepiness might sound benign. But when the brain is older, or otherwise vulnerable, these drugs can be problematic. In fact, they literally have the opposite effect of the drugs often used to treat Alzheimer’s. Donepezil (brand name Aricept), for example, increases acetylcholine by blocking the brain enzyme that breaks it down.

Research has linked anticholinergic drugs to increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and also to hospitalizations in older adults. And the American Geriatrics Society has cautioned older adults about them for years.

Who Should Avoid Anticholinergics?

You should especially avoid or minimize anticholinergics if you:

What You Can Do to Reduce Brain Harm Due to Anticholinergics

For a list of seven very commonly used anticholinergics, including why they are usually prescribed, read my post on NextAvenue.org: 7 Common Drugs That Are Toxic For Your Brain.

For a longer list of anticholinergics that your older relative might be taking, I recommend this list, which specifies whether the drugs have “medium/high” anticholinergic activity versus “low.” You’ll want to focus on identifying and minimizing drugs in the “medium/high” category.

For more help identifying and reducing anticholinergic drugs, you can also ask your doctor or pharmacist.

If you find that your older relative is taking an anticholinergic drug, don’t panic. But do plan on reviewing the benefits and risks with the doctor soon. You may be able to reduce the dosage of these risky drugs, switch to a safer medication, or try a non-drug treatment instead.