According to the findings of a new study, some commonly used antihistamines, antidepressants, epilepsy drugs and painkillers could reduce brain function among the elderly and lead to an early death.
Researchers from the University of East Anglia in the U.K. found that drugs affecting certain types of brain function, known as anticholinergic activity, appeared to be linked to a higher mortality rate in people over the age of 65. The findings were published last week in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Side effects of antihistamines like Piriton, antidepressants such as Anafranil, Elavil, Laroxyl and Tryptizol, as well as the painkiller Codeine, the epilepsy drug Tegretol and other medications all impact anticholinergic activity, meaning that they block a key neurotransmitter in the brain called acetylocholine. The researchers found that different drugs have varying affects on this brain function, and in many cases the elderly are taking a number of these drugs, resulting in a cumulative effect on the brain.
The researchers created a scale called the AntiCholinergic Burden (ACB) to measure the overall effect of these drugs. The higher the ACB the more effect on anticholinergic activity the medications had. They looked at 13,000 British residents 65 and older for two years and found that 20% of those with an ACB score of four or higher died before the end of the study. Only 7% of those not taking any drugs that registered on the ACB scale died in that same time period. According to the findings, every ACB point above that was linked to a 26% increased risk of death.
The researchers also found that older subjects, those from lower social classes and who had a larger number of health issues were likely to be prescribed more drugs that registered on the ACB scale.
The scientists recommended that doctors carefully look at all of the medications prescribed to people over the age of 65 to attempt to keep the total ACB score of the drugs they are taking as low as possible.