Updated 01:59 PM EDT, Wed, Sep 22, 2021

Benzodiazepines Side Effects Include Increased Alzheimer's Risk? Users More Prone to Dementia, Says Study

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A new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) sought to investigate the correlation between the risk of Alzheimer's disease and benzodiazepine exposure. 

Benzodiazepine is available in the market usually as a treatment for anxiety and sleeping conditions such as insomnia. It's a widely used drug, especially with the elderly population. Common benzodiazepine products include Ativan, Klonopin, Xanax and Valium.

A research team composed of scientists from France and Canada have found an association between long-term use of the drug and a higher risk of Alzheimer's. The study was done over a period of six years and involved nearly 1,800 men and women over the age of 66 residing in Quebec. All participants had been prescribed benzodiazepines and were compared with about 7,000 healthy people who resided in the same community and were of the same age.

Experts found that use of benzodiazepines in the past for three months or more had an associated increased risk to developing Alzheimer's of up to 51%. On the results, "Benzodiazepine use is associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease," said lead researcher, Sophie Billioti de Gage of the University of Bordeaux, France, and colleagues per BBC

In its conclusion, the team of researchers wrote: "The stronger association observed for long term exposures reinforces the suspicion of a possible direct association, even if benzodiazepine use might also be an early marker of a condition associated with an increased risk of dementia. Unwarranted long term use of these drugs should be considered as a public health concern."

While the cause of the connection hasn't been definitely established, "Benzodiazepines are risky to use in older people because they can cause confusion and slow down mental processes, " said Dr. Anne Fabiny, chief of geriatrics at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance, via Harvard Health

"However, although there is an association, we still can't say that benzodiazepines actually cause Alzheimer's," continued the doctor. 

Previous researches have noted an increased risk of dementia among users of benzodiazepine but the finer details, like dosage and exact association, haven't been clearly established. 

According to estimates noted in the study, dementia, one of the leading causes of old-age dependency, affects more than 35 million worldwide with the number expected to double every twenty years due to population growth. It's estimated that by 2050, 115 million will be affected by Alzheimer's/ dementia. 

"Our study reinforces the suspicion of an increased risk of Alzheimer-type dementia among benzodiazepine users, particularly long-term users, and provides arguments for carefully evaluating the indications for use of this drug class," the authors wrote, per Huffington Post.

The team warns of the importance of these realizations to public health, considering the trend of chronic use of benzodiazepine in the older population as well as the increasing incidence of dementia. 

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