Anticholinergics, including sleep aids, hay fever pills, and flu relievers, are sold over the counter and by prescription. They work by blocking a neurotransmitter in the brain and body. These common drugs treat many things and range from antihistamines to anti-vertigo drugs to muscle relaxants. Brand names for these drugs include Benadryl, Tylenol PM, Advil PM, Dimetapp, Dramamine, Paxil, Unisom, and Demerol.
A new study in JAMA looked closer at the side effects of these drugs, including cognitive impairment. About 500 people in their 70s with no history of dementia were tested for memory recall, math skills, and decision-making ability. Those who took anticholinergics had higher rates of cognitive impairment. This study also scanned their brains, showing physical changes as an effect of the drugs.
People need to understand the science and not get hysterical about this finding. Over the counter products are only FDA approved for short-term use and are not necessarily safe for long term use. If you use any of these medications on a regular basis, you should talk to your doctor or find an alternative.
Alternatives to sleep drugs can be holistic, such as getting more exercise, cutting back on caffeine, and turning off the tv before bedtime. Allergy medications that work like Benedryl, but are not anticholinergics, are Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra. Talk to your doctor before switching to a new drug, be it over the counter or prescription.
Marcus, Mary Brophy. “Popular drugs for colds, allergies, sleep linked to dementia.” News. CBS News, 21 Apr 2016. Web. 24 Apr 2016.