Anticholinergic Drugs Side Effects Include Increased Risk for Dementia: Learn About These and Other Drugs That Cause Memory Loss

Drugs That Cause Memory LossMemory loss can be caused by a number of factors. A cause that is often overlooked, but extremely common, is medication use. A variety of widely used drugs, including antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, sleeping aids, and anti-histamines can all contribute to cognitive impairment and memory problems. Some may even raise your risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as well. Learn about these drugs that cause memory loss to help keep your mind and memory in good shape.

Anticholinergic drugs: side effects include an increased risk for dementia

Anticholinergic drugs are a class of medications that block the action of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Some anticholinergic drugs purposefully block acetylcholine activity to reach their intended therapeutic effect, while others unintentionally do so. They are used to treat a variety of conditions, including diarrhea, asthma, COPD, insomnia, dizziness, overactive bladder, and more. Anticholinergic activities can be seen in both over-the-counter drugs and prescription medications. Examples of these drugs include Benadryl (used for allergies), Oxivent (used for asthma), Spiriva (used for respiratory conditions), and tricyclic antidepressants.

A study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine in March of 2015 found a strong association between anticholinergic drug use and an increased risk for both all-cause dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Of the over 3,000 participants, those who had the highest exposure to these medications had a significantly elevated risk for dementia compared to those who never used the medications. The authors said that “a person taking an anticholinergic medication such as oxybutynin 5mg daily or doxepin 10 mg daily for more than three years would have a greater risk for dementia.”[1] The results of this new study are in line with several previous findings that anticholinergic drugs side effects often include cognitive impairment and memory problems.[2]

Other drugs that cause memory loss and cognitive impairment

  • Benzodiazepines. One of the more common anti-anxiety medications, benzodiazepines, can also cause cognitive decline.[3] The use of benzodiazepine drugs is associated with short- and long-term memory deficits, and well as disturbances of attention and concentration, causing symptoms like forgetfulness and confusion.[4]
  • Antihistamines block the action of histamine and are used to treat allergic reactions. Antihistamines are one of many drugs that have unintended anticholinergic effects, because they also happen to interfere with acetylcholine activity. First generation antihistamines, including commonly used over the counter medications like Benadryl, ZzzQuil and Advil PM, may contribute to cognitive impairment.[4]
  • Statins. In 2012, the FDA issued a warning label for statin drugs (used to lower cholesterol), stating that they may have adverse effects on cognition, including memory impairment. Whether or not this warning has a strong scientific backing is controversial; many studies report no effects on cognitive function associated with statin use.[5,6] Larger studies are needed to confirm the effects of statins on memory and cognitive function.
  • Antipsychotic medications may also be associated with impaired cognitive function. One study in people with obstructive sleep apnea found that the use of antipsychotics was correlated with scores of worsened cognition.[3] Results of studies are mixed, however, and researchers believe that different antipsychotic agents likely have different effects on cognitive function.

Use natural approaches to avoid cognitive impairment

Natural Health Advisory can help you to find a variety of natural approaches that can help you to avoid the many medications that can cause memory loss. For example, read our blogs, How to Use Natural Allergy Remedies to Stop Seasonal Suffering, for natural alternatives to antihistamines.

We also have an extensive collection of blogs dedicated to relieving anxiety, controlling cholesterol, fighting depression, and more. Browse these collections to find natural treatment strategies without adverse effects.

Share your experience

Have you ever experienced memory loss or cognitive impairment associated with any of these drugs? Have you ever had any other anticholinergic drugs side effects? Share your favorite alternatives to these drugs in the comments section below.


[1] South Med J. 2006 Jun;99(6):593-9.

[2] J Am Geriatr Soc. 2011 Aug;59(8):1477-83.

[3] Sleep Breath. 2015 Jan 8. [Epub ahead of print]

[4] Drugs Aging. 2012 Aug 1;29(8):639-58.

[5] J Gen Intern Med. 2015 Mar;30(3):348-58.

[6] Ann Intern Med. 2013 Nov 19;159(10):688-97.

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UHN Staff

University Health News is produced by the award-winning editors and authors of Belvoir Media Group’s Health & Wellness Division. Headquartered in Norwalk, Conn., with editorial offices in Florida, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, … Read More

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