Medicines used for incontinence could affect brain function and risk of dementia

by Kevin Turner

On 27th January 2015 the BBC reported a study which linked commonly used medicines, including over the counter remedies for conditions such as insomnia and hay fever, to dementia. All the types of medication in question are drugs that have an “anticholinergic” effect. A number of medicines used by Urologists to treat overactive bladder conditions are of this anticholinergic type. 

The study was based on over 3000 people aged over 65 who had no signs of dementia at the start of the study. The study does not mention any specific brands. It is important to emphasise that the investigators are not claiming a definite cause or link and that they only saw an effect in people taking fairly high doses of medications over a prolonged period of time. Representatives from Alzheimer’s Research UK and from the UK’s Alzheimer’s Society noted that the findings were interesting but emphasised that more research was needed and that patients should not stop taking medication which has been prescribed for them by their doctor. It should also be emphasised that there are many other benefits from treating overactive bladder in elderly patients (for example episodes of incontinence can be linked to falls which are in turn associated with fractures). There are alternatives to the medications about which concern has been expressed and I would be more than happy to meet with any patients who wish to discuss alternative means of managing their symptoms.