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Common medicines linked to changes in brain

Researchers have found some fresh evidence that may help justify the connection between commonly used drugs for problems like colds, allergies, depression, high blood pressure and heart disease and cognitive deficiency and dementia.

The drugs, known as anticholinergics, stall a chemical called acetylcholine from working properly in the nervous system. By doing so, they can let go of unpleasant gastrointestinal, respiratory or urinary symptoms.

Lead study author Shannon Risacher of the Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis said, "There are definitely medical benefits to all of the anticholinergic medications we looked at, which could outweigh the cognitive risks."

"But if alternative therapies are available that provide effective treatment of these conditions, patients and doctors might want to consider avoiding anticholinergic medications," Risacher added.

The authors also accept limitations of their study. Besides the small number of participants taking anticholinergic drugs, another problem is that the study depended on participants to exactly recall and report drug use, which wasn't substantiated by medical records.

Still, the study adds to a growing evidence finding connection between anticholinergic medicines as well as cognitive problems later in life and provides new evidence to explain why this link exists, Alain Koyama, an outcomes researcher at Health Advocate, a consultancy in Los Angeles said.

The findings should inspire doctors and patients to talk about the drugs, and to consider if the potential risk of cognitive decline deserves avoiding or decreasing use of these medicines.