Many older people take benzodiazepines, which are given as sedatives or as sleeping pills. They can lead to addiction and also often have a number of side effects. Now a team of researchers examined whether the use of the active ingredients can also lead to the development of dementia.
Although the medication should generally only be taken for a few weeks at most, long-term therapy is not uncommon. This is especially true for seniors. In a cohort study, French researchers from the University of Bordeaux investigated whether starting new therapy with benzodiazepines was associated with an increased risk of dementia in the following years. (BMJ 2012; 345: e6231).
After taking risk factors such as depression, age and therapy with cardiovascular and anti-diabetic medication into account, participants with newly started benzodiazepine therapy were able to calculate an approximately 40 percent increased risk of dementia.
However, the interpretation of the data is extremely difficult, the researchers believe. The symptoms against which benzodiazepines are prescribed can often also occur at the beginning of a neurodegenerative disease. It is therefore unclear whether the intake of benzodiazepines may mark the beginning of dementia or is actually causally involved in its development. (pm)