Common Drugs That Can Cause Memory Loss and How to Avoid Their Dangers 

From the 1970’s until the time of her death, my mother struggled with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (that may have been exacerbated by her diet soda habit) and was taking an anticholinergic drug called Bentyl to offer relief. Many people take that drug for bowel urgency that comes with IBS. Others might also take medications for over-active bladder (Vesicare, Ditropan XL, Levsin and Detrol to name a few.)

It wasn’t until my mother passed away from Alzheimer’s Disease that I started seeing the research on anticholinergic drugs and their effects on cognitive loss and memory loss. That rabbit hole led me down other paths to other commonly prescribed drugs that have cognitive loss and memory loss as a side effect. This isn’t an exhaustive search…..but this is what I found. May this offer you, and your loved ones, help and hope in minimizing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.

Introduction:

Memory loss can be a concerning side effect of certain medications, affecting individuals of all ages and backgrounds. While some drugs are essential for treating various medical conditions, it’s crucial to be aware of potential memory-related risks associated with their use, especially if you’re at risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. Understanding these risks can help you make informed decisions, work with your healthcare provider, and take steps to minimize memory loss while benefiting from the medication’s therapeutic effects. 

Common Drugs Causing Memory Loss:

Benzodiazepines: 
Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed for anxiety, insomnia, and seizure disorders. Although they offer rapid relief, they can have a negative impact on memory, especially when used for an extended period. Common benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan). 

Antidepressants: 
Certain antidepressants, especially older tricyclic antidepressants, may cause memory issues in some individuals. The cognitive side effects can include difficulty concentrating, memory lapses, and mental fogginess. Common antidepressants include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline hydrochloride (Zoloft), clomipramine (Anafranil), amoxapine (Asendin) and amitriptyline (Elavil) 

Antihistamines: 
Over-the-counter antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), are widely used for allergies and as sleep aids. They can cause drowsiness and short-term memory impairment, especially if used regularly. 

Anti-anxiety Medications: 
Apart from benzodiazepines, other anti-anxiety medications like buspirone (BuSpar) and certain antipsychotics have been associated with cognitive problems, including memory disturbances. 

Statins: 
Statins are prescribed to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Some individuals report memory issues while using statins, although the link is still debated among researchers. 

Sleep Medications: 
Prescription sleep aids, like zolpidem (Ambien) and eszopiclone (Lunesta), can disrupt normal sleep patterns and lead to memory problems, especially if not taken as directed. 

How to Avoid the Dangers of Memory Loss:

Consult Your Healthcare Provider: 
Before starting any new medication, discuss potential cognitive side effects, including memory loss, with your healthcare provider. If you are already taking a medication that might be affecting your memory, consult your doctor to explore alternative treatment options or dosage adjustments.

Be Informed and Observe: 
Educate yourself about the potential side effects of the drugs you are taking. Pay attention to any cognitive changes you may experience while on medication and communicate these observations with your healthcare provider promptly.

Lifestyle Modifications: 
Support your memory and cognitive health through lifestyle modifications. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and mental stimulation can help counteract memory-related side effects. 

Regular Medication Reviews: 
Regularly review your medications with your doctor to assess their effectiveness and potential side effects. Sometimes, adjusting the dosage or trying a different medication can alleviate memory-related issues. 

Limit Alcohol and Caffeine: 
Excessive alcohol consumption and high doses of caffeine can exacerbate memory problems, especially when combined with memory-affecting medications. Limiting or avoiding these substances can be beneficial.

Consider Non-Drug Alternatives: 
In some cases, non-drug alternatives such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety and insomnia or lifestyle changes for managing cholesterol levels may be viable options to explore before resorting to medication.

Conclusion:

While certain medications can cause memory loss, increasing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease, it’s essential to weigh the potential risks against the benefits they offer. Open communication with your healthcare provider, staying informed, and making lifestyle adjustments can help mitigate memory-related dangers while still receiving necessary medical treatment. Always remember to consult a healthcare professional before making any changes to your medication regimen or healthcare plan.

Scientific Resources: 
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27056860/ 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3244635/

Lay Resources: 
https://memorialsatillahealth.com/blog/entry/five-drugs-that-may-impair-your-memory

https://www.aplaceformom.com/caregiver-resources/articles/these-drugs-may-cause-memory-loss 

Written by Dr. Becky

Dr Becky is a retired functional medicine practitioner; daughter to parents who both died of Alzheimer’s; and now an Alzheimer’s Prevention Advocate, because an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.

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