Medications (Benzoadiazepines) widely used for anxiety and insomnia are linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s in a new study.

The study, published Tuesday in the medical journal BMJ, does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between benzodiazepines – drugs such as Xanax, Ativan and Valium – and dementia. But it does show Alzheimer’s was 51% more common in older adults who took the drugs in the past.

The risk started to show up with three months of use and rose from there. It was greatest in patients who took long-acting versions.

“It is not surprising that benzodiazepines are associated with adverse cognitive effects,” says an editorial written by Kristine Yaffe of the University of California, San Francisco, and Malaz Boustani of the Indiana University Center for Aging Research.

One obvious reason for a link could be that people who go on to develop Alzheimer’s first develop anxiety, depression and trouble sleeping – which they treat with pills. The researchers say they adjusted their results to account for earlier diagnoses of those conditions and still found what appears to be an independent link with Alzheimer’s, but they said they cannot be sure that all previous health problems showed up in the records. They also cannot be sure that patients took all the pills they were prescribed.

Reported by the daily press in the UK and the BBC, the clearest version is given by U S A Today.

Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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