People who use anxiety drugs such as Valium and Xanax long-term may be raising their risk of Alzheimer’s disease, French and Canadian researchers report. They found that elderly people who used drugs called benzodiazepines for three months or longer had a 43 percent to 51 percent higher risk of later developing Alzheimer’s. It’s not clear whether the drugs are causing the Alzheimer’s directly, or if people perhaps use the drugs to treat other symptoms that may be early signs of Alzheimer’s, such as depression or insomnia. But the researchers tried to factor this in as much as possible and still found a higher risk of Alzheimer’s in those who took the drugs long-term.
Taken for short periods or occasionally, anxiety drugs such as Valium, Xanax, Ativan or Klonopin are useful and relatively harmless, although they can affect memory. But doctors don’t recommend using them long-term. Bernard Bégaud of the University of Bordeaux and colleagues studied the records of nearly 1,800 Alzheimer’s patients and 7,000 similar people without Alzheimer’s living in Quebec, where 98 percent of older people use the provincial drug plan. Those who had taken the drugs over long periods were far more likely to be in the Alzheimer’s group, the report in the online journal bmj.com.
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— Maggie Fox