Common Drugs Increase Dementia Risk

Common Drugs Increase Dementia Risk

Some antidepressants, bladder control drugs and first-generation anti-histamines have been linked to a greater risk of dementia. Specifically, tricyclic antidepressants significantly increasing the risk of developing dementia. They are given for depression as well as for migraines, chronic pain, eating disorders, bipolar, anxiety, insomnia, bedwetting, panic, and smoking cessation,

Prescription medications for overactive bladder and some types of over the counter anti-histamines were also linked to increased risk of dementia. What these drugs have in common is they inhibit the action of a critical brain chemical, acetylcholine. They all have anticholinergic activity. None of these drugs treat life-threatening conditions.

The study, conducted by a lead researcher from University of Washington School of Pharmacy, found that the cumulative dose of anti-cholinergic drugs is a predictor of dementia risk. The threshold duration was an average of 3 years on such drugs. What’s more, the risk persisted for a long time even after the drug was stopped.

Action item for the informed consumer: Discuss the risks with your doctor if you are taking any of these medications, and get help in safely coming off:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants:
  • Anafranil (clomipramine)
  • Asendin (amoxapine)
  • Elavil (amitriptyline)
  • Norpramin (desipramine)
  • Pamelor (nortriptyline)
  • Sinequan (doxepin)
  • Surmontil (trimipramine)
  • Tofranil (imipramine)
  • Vivactil (protiptyline)

Bladder control drugs with anticholinergic activity:

  • Ditropan (oxybutynin)
  • Detrol (tolerodine)
  • Sanctura (trospium)
  • Vesicare (solefenicin)
  • Enablex (darifenicin)
  • Toviaz (fesoteradine)

First generation anti-histamines:

  • Dimetapp (brompheniramine)
  • Chlor-Trimeton (chlorpheniramine)
  • Dramamine (dimenhydrinate)
  • Benadryl Allergy, Nytol, Sominex (diphenhydramine)
  • Vicks NyQuil, Alka-Seltzer Plus Night-Time Cold Medicine (doxylamine )

Get more information in No Nonsense Guide to Psychiatric Drugs by Moira Dolan, MD


Cumulative Use of Strong Anticholinergics and Incident Dementia: A Prospective Cohort Study, by SL Gray, et al,  JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(3):401-407.

Stay Informed. Join the Mailing List.

Close Menu