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Possible Link between Anti-Anxiety Drugs and Alzheimer's Disease

Melissa Healy with the Los Angeles Times reports that common anti-anxiety drugs may be linked to the development of Alzheimer's disease ("Drugs used for anxiety, sleep are linked to Alzheimer's disease in older people"). According to new research, Healy writes, "Older people who have relied on a class of drugs called benzodiazepines to reduce anxiety or induce sleep are at higher risk [...]."

The study involved nearly 1,800 people with an Alzheimer's diagnosis. While it's much too early to say with any certainty that benzodiazepines actually increase one's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease in later life, Healy does cite apparent risk factors.

Apparent Risk Factors for Developing Alzheimer's After Taking Benzodiazepines

There appear to be three factors that might put people at higher risk of developing Alzheimer's. It all comes down to how much and for how long the drugs are taken:

1. Long-acting benzodiazepines

2. High doses

3. Regular use over several months or years

In contrast, people who took these drugs in lower doses, for a short time period, and/or infrequently, according to Healy, did not appear to be at higher risk of Alzheimer's.

Specific Anti-Anxiety Drugs Studied

Here are the brand names of the anti-anxiety drugs that were part of the study and presented a possible link between patients' use and Alzheimer's:

  • Xanax
  • Ativan
  • Seresta
  • Valium

Specific Sleep-inducing Drugs Studied

  • Klonopin
  • Dalmane
  • Versed
  • Mogadon
  • Restoril
  • Halcion

Are These Drugs Defective?

Perhaps the evidence is not quite there yet to support an indictment that these anti-anxiety and sleep-inducing drugs are "defective," as far as the legal definition is concerned. But Alzheimer's is a serious illness, the cause of which is not yet fully understood by scientific researchers and the medical community. Until we know more, it might be best to use benzodiazepines in moderation and only in consultation with your health care provider.

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