Anticholinergic Meds May Impair the Brain

February 27, 2012, by Michael A. DeMayo

Are some popular drugs, in fact, dangerous drugs? According to The New York Times, many people don’t realize that there are dozens of antihistamines, painkillers, and psychiatric medications that can negatively impact the brain—especially if the person is elderly. The Times reports that taking more than one of the medications that can have this effect may lead to memory loss and cognitive impairment.

These drugs, known as anticholinergics, block the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is usually tasked with a number of bodily functions (including cognitive function and memory production.) The drugs’ effects are cumulative.

The reason that older patients are at higher risk of brain impairment is that they are more likely than younger persons to be taking multiple medications on a regular basis. Unfortunately, doctors don’t always know about every medication a patient is taking and they don’t always assess the anticholinergic properties of the medications they prescribe.

According to new findings, reported last year in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researcher of a study that followed over 13,000 British senior citizens, age 65 and above, found over a two year-period that not only did the patients taking two or more anticholinergic meds earn lower scores on cognitive function tests than elderly persons that weren’t taking this type of medication, but also, heavy med users had a 68% percent higher death rate.

In America, at least 20% of the 36 million people belonging to the age 65 and above age group take one or more anticholinergic drugs. Also, in a study of over 4,000 older people, researchers concluded that people who were taking at three or more anticholinergic drugs on a regular basis for at least 90 days were close to three times as likely as seniors that hadn’t taken this type of medication to be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.


Examples of popular anticholinergics: prednisone, codeine, warfarin, digoxin, Benadryl, Paxil, clozapine, and oxybutynin.  Also, there are a lot of over-the-counter medications, including Tylenol PM, antihistamines, and allergy medications, that if someone were to take them could lead to anticholinergic-related effects.

At the Law Offices of Michael A. DeMayo, LLP, our Charlotte, North Carolina dangerous drug lawyers represent clients that became sick or impaired because they took a medication that caused them to suffer a severe side effect. It is important that a drug manufacturer warn of any serious side effects that may result from taking a medication. Over-the-counter drugs, which anyone can pick up without a prescription, are not exempt from this requirement.

Unfortunately, it is the patient that suffers. Examples of other medications that have been linked to serious side effects Celebrex, Fen Phen, Bextra, Fosamax, Ortho Evra, Reglan, PPA, Rezulin, Hydroxycut, HRT, Darvocet, and Darvon.

Our Charlotte, North Carolina personal injury law firm know how intimidating it can be to go after a drug company to pursue damages. There is no reason for you to do this without legal help.

Cocktail of Popular Drugs May Cloud the Brain, The New York Times, February 27, 2012

Study looks at medication risk for elderly, NHS, June 24, 2011

The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 

More Blog Posts:

Prescription Drug-Related Injuries and Deaths Have More than Doubled, North Carolina Injury Lawyer Blog, November 1, 2011

FDA Advisory Panel Meets to Discuss Fosamax and Other Bisphosphonates But Offers No Specific Recommendations on Duration of Long-Term Use, North Carolina Injury Lawyer Blog, September 16, 2011

North Carolina Dangerous Drug: Wrongful Death Lawsuit Blames Yasmin and Ocella Contraceptives for Daughter’s Fatal Pulmonary Embolism, North Carolina Injury Lawyer Blog, June 21, 2011



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