20 February 2019
A healthcare worker attends to an elderly patient at a nursing home in Poland. Photo: Bloomberg
A healthcare worker attends to an elderly patient at a nursing home in Poland. Photo: Bloomberg

Chronic use of common sedative linked to Alzheimer’s risk

Long-term use of a drug commonly prescribed for anxiety and sleeplessness has been linked to a greater risk of Alzheimer’s, according to recent study.

It’s not certain whether chronic use of benzodiazepines actually causes the brain disease, but data analysis shows a very glaring link, Agence France-Presse quoted the authors of the study as saying.

Researchers in France and Canada, using a health insurance database in Quebec, found that patients who had extensively used benzodiazepines for at least three months in the past, were up to 51 percent more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The risk rose the longer the patient had used the drug.

But the data could be tricky, the researchers admit. Benzodiazepine is used to treat sleeplessness and anxiety, symptoms that are common among people who are later diagnosed with having Alzheimer’s.

This could mean that the drugs,  rather than causing Alzheimer’s, were being used to ease its early symptoms, and this could explain the statistical association, the authors said.

The paper, published by the British Medical Journal, is led by Sophie Billioti de Gage at the University of Bordeaux, southwestern France.

Commenting on the study, Eric Karran, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said data for the research was gathered over a five-year period, whereas Alzheimer’s symptoms often appear a decade or more before diagnosis.

More long-term research is needed to understand the observed link, Karran said.

Dementia affects 36 million people worldwide, and the number is expected to double every 20 years as life expectancy lengthens, AFP said.

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