With approximately 1 in 8 Americans over the age of 60 reporting some level of memory loss, we are facing a large national health problem. Medical health professionals and researchers are assessing the potential risk factors and causes in our society today in hopes of determining why this has become such a widespread problem.
They are study and investigating the impact of sleep, our diets, exposure to chemicals in the form of cleaning products, pesticides and cosmetics among others, and, interestingly enough, the impact of the pharmaceutical industry on our overall cognitive health.
Stop for a moment and picture the most recent pharmaceutical related commercial you have seen on television. While the images paint a pretty picture of someone free from the health concerns, living their lives free from concern with a smile on their face, pay careful attention to warnings that are included. In many cases, the list of potential side effects is longer than the benefits of the medication!
By investigating some of the common medications that Americans are using today, researchers have determined that the following 10 classes of medication may actually be contributing to memory loss:
#1 – Antidepressant Drugs (Tricyclic Antidepressants)
Largely prescribed for the management of mental health disorders including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders and eating disorders, tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are associated with memory impairment and difficulty concentrating due to the impairment of the chemical messengers norepinephrine and serotonin. Some experts report as high as 35% of users report difficulties with memory.
Examples: Amitriptyline (Elavil), Clomipramine (Anafranil), Desipramine (Norpramin), Doxepin (Sinequan), Imipramine (Tofranil), Nortriptyline (Pamelor), Protriptyline (Vivactil), Trimipramine (Surmontil)
#2 – Hypertension Drugs (Beta-Blockers)
By slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure, these drugs have been recognized as an effective treatment for heart-related conditions including congestive heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms, and high blood pressure, however they also block key chemical messengers in the brain including norepinephrine and epinephrine which interferes with the body’s ability to create and maintain memories.
Examples: Atenolol (Tenormin), Carvedilol (Coreg), Metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol), Propranolol (Inderal), Sotalol (Betapace), Timolol (Timoptic)
#3 – Antiseizure Drugs
Used to manage and treat the occurrence of seizures, these medications work by dampening the flow of various chemical messengers and signals throughout the central nervous system (CNS). While this may reduce the incidents of seizures, these chemical messengers are required for the formation of and maintenance of memories. This results in a negative impact on long- and short-term verbal and visual memory.
Examples: Acetazolamide (Diamox), Carbamazepine (Tegretol), Ezogabine (Potiga), Gabapentin (Neurontin), Lamotrigine (Lamictal), Levetiracetam (Keppra), Oxcarbazepine (Trileptal), Pregabalin (Lyrica), Rufinamide (Banzel), Topiramate (Topamax), Valproic Acid (Depakote), Zonisamide (Zonegran)
#4 – Antihistamines (First-Generation)
Most often used for the relief and prevention of allergy symptoms or even the common cold, antihistamines are a staple in most medicine cabinets around the country. These drugs exist both as over-the-counter options and prescription meditations and can impact the chemical messengers in the brain that allow for proper activity in the memory and learning centers of the brain.
Examples: Brompheniramine (Dimetane), Carbinoxamine (Clistin), Chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), Clemastine (Tavist), Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), Hydroxyzine (Vistaril)
#5 – Antianxiety Drugs (Benzodiazepines)
Working as a sedative, benzodiazepines work by dampening specific areas of the brain in order to manage the emotional response to outside stimuli. However, by interfering with these brain processes these medications have been found to impact the transfer of events from short-term to long-term memory. This results in short-term memory loss and has even been associated with anterograde amnesia.
Examples: Alprazolam (Xanax), Chlordiazepoxide (Librium), Clonazepam (Klonopin), Diazepam (Valium), Flurazepam (Dalmane), Lorazepam (Ativan), Midazolam (Versed), Quazepam (Doral), Temazepam (Restoril), Triazolam (Halcion)
#6 – Narcotic Painkillers
Used for the treatment of chronic pain such as that caused by a serious injury or conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, narcotic painkillers interrupt the flow of pain signals within the body’s nervous system, numbing one’s emotional reaction to physical pain in the body. Some of these chemical messengers that are being blocked, however, are the same messengers responsible for communication with the memory center of our brain. Long-term use has been associated with problems both with long-term and short-term memory.
Examples: Fentanyl (Duragesic), Hydrocodone (Norco, Vicodin), Hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo), Morphine (Astramorph, Avinza), Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
#7 – Incontinence Drugs (Anticholinergics)
These drugs are most often used for the treatment of overactive bladder, managing symptoms including the frequency and urgency of urination. They work by blocking a chemical messenger called acetylcholine, and in doing so they prevent the involuntary contractions of the muscles around the bladder that control urine flow, however, this chemical is also necessary for the proper function of the memory center of the brain. Researchers found that the impact of these medications was comparable to approximately 10 years of cognitive aging.
Examples: Darifenacin (Enablex), Oxybutynin (Ditropan XL, Gelnique, Oxytrol), Solifenacin (Vesicare), Tolterodine (Detrol), Trospium (Sanctura)
#8 – Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs (Statins)
Highly prescribed for the treatment of high cholesterol, these drugs not only lower the cholesterol in the bloodstreams of users, but they may also deplete the levels of cholesterol in the brain. Contrary to popular belief, not all cholesterol is bad. Lipids in the brain are necessary for the formation of connections between nerve cells, thus a loss of this good cholesterol can impact cognitive function including memory.
Examples: Atorvastatin (Lipitor), Fluvastatin (Lescol), Lovastatin (Mevacor), Pravastatin (Pravachol), Rosuvastatin (Crestor), Simvastatin (Zocor)
#9 – Parkinson’s Drugs (Dopamine Agonists)
In order to manage and treat conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, restless legs syndrome (RLS) and certain pituitary tumors, health care professionals rely on medications that signal pathways for the chemical messenger dopamine. Often associated with the areas of pleasure, motivation, memory, and learning, altering the movement of this chemical in the body can, in turn, alter its usual function. While memory loss is a common side effect of Parkinson’s disease, these medications have been found to further compound this problem.
Examples: Apomorphine (Apokyn), Pramipexole (Mirapex), Ropinirole (Requip)
#10 – Sleeping Aids (Nonbenzodiazepine Sedative-Hypnotics)
Experts warn that these medications have a significant impact on your ability to create and maintain memories. Clifford Saper, chair of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center explains that these drugs actually cause an amnestic response in which the user is unable to lay down any long-term memories throughout the time that the drug is active in the body.
Examples: Eszopiclone (Lunesta), Zaleplon (Sonata), Zolpidem (Ambien)