(NaturalNews) A commonly prescribed class of drugs may cause elderly patients to slow down both mentally and physically, researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine have found.
Drugs in the anticholingeric family prevent the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from binding to nerve cells. This slows down communication between the cells in the brain. The drugs are used to treat a variety of conditions, including acid reflux, high blood pressure, Parkinson's disease and urinary incontinence.
In one study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the researchers found that residents of nursing homes who were taking both dementia medication and an anticholingeric incontinence drug lost mental function 50 percent faster than patients taking only the dementia drugs.
"Over a year's time, the decline we observed would represent a resident going from requiring only limited assistance in an activity to being completely dependent," researcher Kaycee M. Sink said.
All study participants had taken dementia drugs known as cholinesterase inhibitors, which increase levels of acetylcholine in the brain. Yet 10 percent were also taking a urinary incontinence drug in the anticholingeric family.
"The two drugs are pharmacological opposites," Sink noted.
In a second study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Geriatrics Society in Washington, D.C., the researchers examined the physical effects of anticholinergics on elderly patients. They found that seniors who took anticholinergics were more likely to have more trouble walking and to walk more slowly than seniors not on the drugs.
"The results were true even in older adults who have normal memory and thinking abilities," Sink said. "For older adults taking a moderately anticholingeric medication, or two or more mildly anticholingeric medications, their function was similar to that of someone three or four years older."
The anticholinergics being taken included nifedipine (a blood pressure drug marketed as Adalat or Procardia), ranitidine (an acid reflux drug marketed as Zantac) and tolterodine (an incontinence drug marketed as Detrol).