Disclaimer: The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have.
- While we don’t know the cause or the cure of dementia, we do know there are certain medications that worsen symptoms.
- Antidepressants, antipsychotics, antiepileptics, benzodiazepines, and opioids are common dementia medications that should be avoided.
- Medications that affect cognitive function and neurotransmitter activity can prolong dementia symptoms.
Although scientists are scrambling to discover the cause of dementia – and getting closer every day – we still aren’t 100% sure why some people get it, and some don’t. But we do know that there are some medications that can lead to or worsen dementia-related symptoms. If you or a loved one are currently experiencing any dementia or dementia-like symptoms, contact a doctor for a diagnosis as well as medications that can help treat these symptoms. However, in the meantime, here are a few dementia medications to avoid prolonging or worsening any symptoms.
Antidepressants are often used to treat conditions and disorders such as anxiety, depression, certain addictions, and chronic pain (in some cases). This type of medication works by balancing out neurotransmitters in your brain to create a more balanced state of mind. However, some antidepressant medications can cause sedation. This sedation can lead to symptoms of confusion, weaken your cognitive state, and lead to reduced cognitive agility.
- amitriptyline (Elavil)
- andimipramine (Tofranil)
- nortriptyline (Pamelor)
As mentioned, antidepressants can worsen one of the most common dementia symptoms: confusion. This confusion is caused by sedating your cognitive neurotransmitters. However, with dementia symptoms, sedating and balancing out your neurotransmitters which are already weakened can lead to worsening these symptoms even further. This can be harmful to the user if they are experiencing dementia or have the probability of inheriting dementia.
Antidepressants that do not use anticholinergic effects can be quite helpful for those who are experiencing dementia symptoms and are a much safer alternative to the drugs listed above. These drugs include citalopram (Celexa), fluoxetine (Prozac),paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), and trazodone (Desyrel). The difference between the previous drugs mentioned and these medications are the neurotransmitters they affect. With these safer alternatives, those who are experiencing dementia-symptoms will not see a decline in cognitive function in relation to these medications in a majority of cases but will see a positive impact on their mood and irritability.
Antipsychotics treat behavioral conditions such as hallucinations, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, to name a few. These medications work by blocking a specific type of dopamine receptor in the brain, specifically the D2 receptor. This stops the release of dopamine into the brain for further use. These drugs can have serious impacts on someone who is already experiencing dementia-like symptoms and should be taken with extreme caution.
- haloperidol (Haldol)
- olanzepine (Zyprexa)
- resperidone (Risperdal)
Due to the block of the D2 receptor, the brain becomes more balanced. But this can be very harmful for someone who is already experiencing a cognitive decline. Antipsychotics – when not taken appropriately – can cause confusion, sedation, and even Parkinsons-like symptoms such as tremors. If you are taking antipsychotics and begin to feel dementia-related symptoms, you should contact your doctor at your earliest convenience.
There are not many antipsychotics that are not harmful to dementia symptoms. If you are experiencing symptoms of a cognitive decline it is best to contact your doctor for a new medication plan. This typically includes a new set of prescribed medications or minimizing your current dosage. However, this varies from a case-to-case basis – so it is important to contact your own healthcare provider.
Antiepileptics are used to treat neurological conditions and are most commonly used to treat people with epilepsy. These drugs work to prevent seizures from happening by inhibiting a person’s excited state. This works to treat epiliptic seizures because it calms the energy levels of the body and reduces convulsions as well as the person’s cognitive state. In order to do this, the medication alters the electrical activity in the brain by affecting ion channels throughout the brain’s membrane.
- Pregabalin (Alzain, Axalid, Lecaent, Lyrica, Rewisca)
- Gabapentin (Neurontin)
- Tiagabine (Gabitril)
Since antiepileptics function by decreasing activity and energy levels in the brain, it leads to a decrease in overall cognitive and motor functions. This can lead to a number of side effects including drowsiness, irritability, clumsiness, and (in some cases) can have a direct impact on learning and memory. If you are already experiencing dementia-like symptoms that are similar to these side effects, taking an antiepileptic drug will only worsen these symptoms or can possibly create dementia-like symptoms if you are not experiencing any of these effects already.
If you are currently experiencing dementia-related symptoms with your current antiepileptic medication or are afraid that it will worsen your already onset dementia, it is best to contact a doctor as soon as possible so they can help provide a safer medication or alternative.
Benzodiazepines are typically used as sedatives, anti-anxiety drugs, or sleep aids. This drug class treats conditions that require relaxation of the mind and body such as tremors, anxiety, epileptic seizures, muscle spasms, or insomnia. Benzodiazepines work by enhancing the levels of a brain chemical, GABA, that is responsible for feeling calm and relaxed. If you are already experiencing symptoms that decrease cognitive levels and rational thoughts, you can see how this drug might worsen your symptoms.
- diazepam (Valium)
- lorazepam (Aivan)
- temazepam (Restoril)
Since benzodiazepines work to relax your cognitive functions – including reduced muscle and brain activity – these medications can be extremely harmful to those already experiencing dementia-like symptoms. If you are already experiencing symptoms, these drugs can lead to an increase in confusion, drowsiness, slowed reactions, cognitive impairment, and a decrease in motor functions such as balance. If you have dementia or believe you have dementia-related symptoms, it is best to contact your doctor to find the best plan to stop your benzodiazepine use.
Depending on your reasoning for taking benzodiazepines, there are plenty of safer alternatives that will not impact your dementia-related symptoms. If you are taking these medications to treat insomnia, try taking melatonin when it is nearing your bedtime or exercising throughout the day so you are less energetic when it is time to go to sleep. If you are using benzodiazepines to treat anxiety, try switching your medication to Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, or Effexor. Just make sure to contact your doctor so they can prescribe the best option for you.
Opioids most commonly treat severe pain, as well as chronic coughing or diarrhea. These medications work by attaching opioid receptors on nerve cells throughout the body, including passages throughout the brain, spinal cord, gut, and more. This works to inhibit pain throughout the body and relax your muscles as well as your cognitive functions.
- oxycodone (OxyContin)
- hydrocodone (Vicodin)
Opioids can come with tremendous side effects if taken incorrectly and can cause or increasingly worsen dementia symptoms. Common side effects can include sedation, dizziness, nausea, physical dependence, tolerance, and respiratory depression. Specifically, impacts on dizziness, sedation, and respiratory depression can worsen your or a loved one’s dementia symptoms drastically.
Safer alternatives to opioid medications include over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol and Aspirin. If you need a stronger dosage, contact your doctor regarding another action plan to stop the use of opioids and switch to other remedies.