Certain Types of Anti-Anxiety Medication Could Raise Your Risk of Alzheimer's

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Anxiety is a common problem in a society of over-achievers. It keeps us up at night, causes us to drink, and leaves us with an overall uncomfortable feeling. Furthermore, it’s a frequent issue among an aging population. But those afflicted are often all too quick to look for fast relief in the form of an anti-anxiety medication. But researchers are now warning those who take anti-anxiety drugs to ensure that it’s the best treatment for them because it may increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Certain types of anti-anxiety medication, especially those taken by seniors for more than 3 months could increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 43-51 percent. The class of drugs is called benzodiazepines and it includes Valium, Ativan, Xanax, and Klonopin. They’re known for being calming to the nervous system but in fact, these drugs may permanently change receptors in the brain. In the elderly it’s also hard on the kidneys and liver.

These drugs are increasingly popular. Today, 48.5 million take Xanax, 27.9 million take Ativan, and 14.8 take Valium. But these drugs have side effects. Researchers warn that rather than just getting a refill every month, you should ensure that it’s the best anxiety treatment for you. Consider meditation, yoga, diet changes, or other relaxation techniques. Talk to your doctor about the best treatments.

The study, published in BMJ-British Medical Journal looked at a Quebec Health database and noted 1,796 new cases of Alzheimer's in 6 years of data. The risk was heightened in those who took extended release formulas of anti-anxiety medication. This is a link, however, not a cause.

"Older adults have increased sensitivity to benzodiazepines and slower metabolism of long-acting agents. In general, all benzodiazepines increase risk of cognitive impairment, delirium, falls, fractures, and motor vehicle accidents in older adults," write the authors of the American Geriatrics Society in a 2012 report found on CBS News.

What does this mean for you? These medications should be a last resort, taken when nothing else works. How is your diet? Could you cut caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and processed foods? Could you add in exercise and other relaxation techniques? Could you talk to a professional mental health counselor? Bottom line--explore other options first.

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