Benzodiazepines Implicated in Increased Risk of Dementia

A class of drugs called benzodiazepines sometimes used in Migraine, anxiety, neuromuscular disorders and diseases such as dystonia and seizures, nausea and insomnia and even as an anesthetic prior to surgery, has been linked to dementia in a French study out this past September.

The 20 year observational study monitored older patients who had never used benzodiazepines, and found that those who used this class of drugs one or more times had a 50% increased risk for the development for dementia during the course of the study. This research is important because there is little information currently available about the long-term side effects of the usage of these drugs — neither chronic nor *once-ever* usage. We’re not even sure exactly how benzos work in the human body, although we do know there is some action on a specific neurotransmitter known as GABA.

Benzodiazepines include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Chlorazepate (Tranxene)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Estazolam (Prosom)
  • Flurazepam (Dalmane)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Midazolam
  • Oxazepam (Serax)
  • Tamazopam (Restoril)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)
  • Quazepam (Doral)

In the study, 1063 men and women who were declared dementia-free and had never used a drug in the class known as benzodiazepines were monitored for 20 years. Their average age was approximately 78 years.

Initially they were watched for 3 years, during which time no benzodiazepines were used and no dementia was diagnosed. In years 3-5, 8.9% of patients reported using a benzo at least once and were discluded, assuring a *clean* start to the study. Year five was considered the baseline for the study and patients were monitored for 15 more years (total of 20 years) during which patients visited clinics every 2-3 years.

Earlier a study came out that showed a correlation between the use of benzodiazepines and risk of bone fracture from osteoporosis. In combination with this study, the placement of benzodiazepines on a list of medications to be avoided in the elderly, and our lack of further knowledge about this class of medicines, serves to emphasize use of benzodiazepines for as short a period of time as possible, and only when no other alternative exists, especially in those over the age of 65.

There is some concern that patients who have used benzodiazepines in the past will assume from this study that they might as well continue usage of these highly addictive drugs, assuming that there is no benefit to stopping them in favor of other treatments, which would likely be a mistake.

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