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New research funded by the School suggests that regular use of certain types of commonly-prescribed drugs used to treat bladder conditions, Parkinson’s disease and depression, could significantly increase the risk of dementia in later life.

The study, carried out by Professor Carol Coupland and researchers at the University of Nottingham and funded by the NIHR School for Primary Care Research, found that there was nearly a 50% increased risk of dementia among patients aged 55 and over who had used strong anticholinergic medication daily for three years or more.

Anticholinergic drugs help to contract and relax muscles. They work by blocking acetylcholine, a chemical that transmits messages in the nervous system. Doctors prescribe the drugs to treat a variety of conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bladder conditions, allergies, gastrointestinal disorders and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. These medicines can have short-term side effects, including confusion and memory loss, but it is less certain whether long-term use increases the risk of dementia.

The research, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, looked at the medical records of 58,769 patients with a diagnosis of dementia and 225,574 patients without a diagnosis of dementia, all aged 55 and over and registered with UK GPs contributing data to the QResearch database, between 1 January 2004 and 31 January 2016.

There were statistically significant associations between dementia risk and exposure to anticholinergic antidepressants, antiparkinson drugs, antipsychotic drugs, bladder antimuscarinics, and antiepileptic drugs.

Full press release:

Publication: Anticholinergic Drug Exposure and the Risk of Dementia

Blog in Improving Dementia Education and Awareness: Anticholinergic drugs: some questions and answers


Interest from news outlets 

BBC news




Medical Xpress

with thanks to @EMISHealth @UoNPressOffice @emis_nug @NIHRSPCR and the many thousands of GPs who contribute anonymised data for Qresearch and the patients whose data we analyse for public benefit.

— Julia Hippisley-Cox (@JuliaHCox) July 5, 2019

this is probably my 'personal best' paper ever in terms of the number of views and altmetric scores within the first week or so - latest research on risk of dementia and anticholinergic drug. real world evidence that can help improve patient care

— Julia Hippisley-Cox (@JuliaHCox) July 5, 2019

Research by @MedicineUoN suggests common medications could increase #dementia risk significantly later in life via @MailOnline

— UoN Press Office (@UoNPressOffice) June 25, 2019