Health + Wellness

5 Drugs That Can Affect Your Memory –

Mature woman contemplating at home

Occasional periods of forgetfulness or “brain fog” where you can’t think clearly or have trouble multitasking and comprehending information is an unfortunate sign of aging. But you may not know that some over-the-counter and prescription drugs can affect your memory and cognitive function too.

1. Sleeping aids (nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics)

Why they are prescribed: Sometimes called the “Z” drugs, these medications can be used to treat insomnia and other sleep problems. They also are prescribed for mild anxiety.

Examples: Eszopiclone (Lunesta), zaleplon (Sonata) and zolpidem (Ambien).

How they can affect memory: Although these are molecularly distinct from benzodiazepines (see No. 1, above), they act on many of the same brain pathways and chemical messengers, producing similar side effects and problems with addiction and withdrawal. The “Z” drugs also can cause amnesia and sometimes trigger dangerous or strange behaviors, such as cooking a meal or driving a car with no recollection of the event upon awakening.

Alternatives: There are alternative drug and nondrug treatments for insomnia and anxiety, so talk with your health care professional about options. Melatonin, for instance, can help to reestablish healthy sleep patterns. And cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is the first-line treatment for the sleep disorder.

Before stopping or reducing the dosage of these sleeping aids, be sure to consult your health care provider. Sudden withdrawal can cause serious side effects, so a health professional should always monitor the process.

2. Incontinence drugs (anticholinergics)

Why they are prescribed: These medications are used to relieve symptoms of overactive bladder and reduce episodes of urge incontinence, an urge to urinate so sudden and strong that you often can’t get to a bathroom in time.

Examples: Darifenacin (Enablex), oxybutynin (Ditropan XL), solifenacin (Vesicare), tolterodine (Detrol) and trospium (Sanctura). Another oxybutynin product, Oxytrol for Women, is sold over the counter.

How they can affect memory: Patients who take anticholinergics can have complications with their long-term memory, says Merrey. These medications have been associated with an increased risk of dementia, and that heightened risk can persist even after the medication has been discontinued.

That’s because these drugs block the action of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that mediates all sorts of functions in the body. In the bladder, anticholinergics prevent involuntary contractions of the muscles that control urine flow. In the brain, they inhibit activity in the memory and learning centers. The risk of memory loss is heightened when the drugs are taken for more than a short time or used with other anticholinergic drugs.

Older adults are particularly vulnerable to the other adverse effects of anticholinergic drugs, including constipation (which, in turn, can cause urinary incontinence), blurred vision, dizziness, anxiety, depression and hallucinations.

Alternatives: As a first step, it’s important to make sure that you have been properly diagnosed. Check with your doctor or other health professional to see if your urinary incontinence symptoms might stem from another condition (such as a bladder infection or another form of incontinence) or a medication (such as a blood pressure drug, diuretic or muscle relaxant).

Once these are ruled out, try some simple lifestyle changes, such as cutting back on caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, drinking less before bedtime and doing exercises to strengthen the pelvic muscles that help control urination.

Some urologists are treating overactive bladder with Botox injections to help the muscle relax. Solutions beyond the medicine aisle can also come in handy. “I’ve been really thrilled with the improvements in protective [undergarment] items. They’ve really come a long way,” says K. Ashley Garling-Nañez, clinical assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy. “There are a lot more options for active adults.”

3. Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs

There have been several studies that claim statins and other high cholesterol busters may impair memory by lowering cholesterol levels in the brain as well as in the blood. Lipids in the blood are essential in the formation of

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