Drugs That May Cause Memory Loss
Posted by: Linda Kay | August 10, 2014
We all experience times when we can’t seem to remember as many details as we used to. Like the time you got up, headed to another room, and couldn’t remember why you made the trip. Is it forgetfulness or some other memory loss disorder? Just maybe it’s your medications.
We have condensed the following information from an article in AARP Magazine by Dr. Armon B. Neel, Jr. To read the complete article, Click Here.
Here’s a list of medications that can cause some memory loss along with some alternatives.
1. Antianxiety drugs (Benzodiazepines)
Prescribed for: Anxiety disorders, agitation, delirium and spasms, and to prevent seizures. Because benzodiazepines have a sedative effect, they are sometimes used to treat insomnia and the anxiety that can accompany depression.
Examples: Alprazolam (Xanax), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), flurazepam (Dalmane), lorazepam (Ativan), midazolam (Versed), quazepam (Doral), temazepam (Restoril) and triazolam (Halcion).
How they can cause memory loss: Benzodiazepines dampen activity in key parts of the brain, including those involved in the transfer of events from short-term to long-term memory.
Alternatives: Benzodiazepines should be prescribed only rarely in older adults for short periods of time.
Consult your health care professional before stopping or reducing the dosage of any benzodiazepine. Sudden withdrawal can trigger serious side effects, so a health professional should always monitor the process.
2. Cholesterol-lowering drugs (Statins)
Prescribed for: Treating high cholesterol.
Examples: Atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol), lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin (Crestor) and simvastatin (Zocor).
How they can cause memory loss: Drugs that lower blood levels of cholesterol may impair memory and other mental processes by depleting brain levels of cholesterol as well. (The brain, in fact, contains a quarter of the body's cholesterol.)
Alternatives: Ask your doctor or other health care provider about instead taking a combination of sublingual (under-the-tongue) vitamin B12 (1,000 mcg daily), folic acid (800 mcg daily) and vitamin B6 (200 mg daily).
3. Antiseizure drugs
Why they are prescribed: Long used to treat seizures and more recently for nerve pain, bipolar disorder, mood disorders and mania.
Examples: Acetazolamide (Diamox), carbamazepine (Tegretol), ezogabine (Potiga), gabapentin (Neurontin), lamotrigine (Lamictal), levetiracetam (Keppra), oxcarbazepine (Trileptal), pregabalin (Lyrica), rufinamide (Banzel), topiramate (Topamax), valproic acid (Depakote) and zonisamide (Zonegran).
How they can cause memory loss: By dampening the flow of signals within the central nervous system (CNS). All drugs that depress signaling in the CNS can cause memory loss.
Alternatives: Many patients with seizures do well on phenytoin (Dilantin), which has little if any impact on memory. Many patients with chronic nerve pain find that venlafaxine (Effexor) — which also spares memory — alleviates their pain.
4. Antidepressant drugs (Tricyclic antidepressants)
Why they are prescribed: TCAs are prescribed for depression and, increasingly, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, chronic pain, smoking cessation and some hormone-mediated disorders, such as severe menstrual cramps and hot flashes.
Examples: Amitriptyline (Elavil), clomipramine (Anafranil), desipramine (Norpramin), doxepin (Sinequan), imipramine (Tofranil), nortriptyline (Pamelor), protriptyline (Vivactil) and trimipramine (Surmontil).
How they can cause memory loss: TCAs are thought to cause memory problems by blocking the action of serotonin and norepinephrine — two of the brain's key chemical messengers.
Alternatives: Talk with your health care provider about whether nondrug therapies might work just as well or better for you than a drug. Venlafaxine (Effexor) seems to have the fewest adverse side effects in older patients.
5. Narcotic painkillers
Prescribed for: Also called opioid analgesics, these medications are used to relieve moderate to severe chronic pain, such as the pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
Examples: Fentanyl (Duragesic), hydrocodone (Norco, Vicodin), hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo), morphine (Astramorph, Avinza) and oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet). These drugs come in many different forms, including tablets, solutions for injection, transdermal patches and suppositories.
How they can cause memory loss: These drugs work by stemming the flow of pain signals within the central nervous system and by blunting one's emotional reaction to pain.
Alternatives: In patients under the age of 50 years, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are the frontline therapy for pain. Talk with your doctor or other health care provider about whether tramadol (Ultram), a nonnarcotic painkiller, might be a good choice.
6. Parkinson's drugs (Dopamine agonists)
Why they are prescribed: Used to treat Parkinson's disease, certain pituitary tumors and, increasingly, restless legs syndrome (RLS).
Examples: Apomorphine (Apokyn), pramipexole (Mirapex) and ropinirole (Requip).
How they can cause memory loss: These meds activate signaling pathways for dopamine, a chemical messenger involved in many brain functions, including motivation, the experience of pleasure, fine motor control, learning and memory. As a result, major side effects can include memory loss, confusion, delusions, hallucinations, drowsiness and compulsive behaviors such as overeating and gambling.
Alternatives: If you are being treated for RLS, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether one of your prescription or over-the-counter medications may be the trigger.
7. Hypertension drugs (Beta-blockers)
Prescribed for: Beta-blockers slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure and typically are prescribed for high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms. They're also used to treat chest pain (angina), migraines, tremors and, in eyedrop form, certain types of glaucoma.
Examples: Atenolol (Tenormin), carvedilol (Coreg), metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol), propranolol (Inderal), sotalol (Betapace), timolol (Timoptic) and some other drugs whose chemical names end with "-olol."
How they can cause memory loss: Beta-blockers are thought to cause memory problems by interfering with ("blocking") the action of key chemical messengers in the brain, including norepinephrine and epinephrine.
Alternatives: For older people, benzothiazepine calcium channel blockers, another type of blood pressure medication, are often safer and more effective than beta-blockers.
8. Sleeping aids (Nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics)
Prescribed for: Sometimes called the "Z" drugs, these medications are 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 cause memory loss: 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.
Alternatives: There are alternative drug and nondrug treatments for insomnia and anxiety, so talk with your health care professional about options. Before stopping or reducing the dosage of these sleeping aids, be sure to consult your health care professional.
9. Incontinence drugs (Anticholinergics)
Prescribed for: These medications are used to relieve symptoms of overactive bladder.
Examples: Darifenacin (Enablex), oxybutynin (Ditropan XL, Gelnique, Oxytrol), solifenacin (Vesicare), tolterodine (Detrol) and trospium (Sanctura). Another oxybutynin product, Oxytrol for Women, is sold over the counter.
How they can cause memory loss: These drugs block the action of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that mediates all sorts of functions in the body. 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.
Alternatives: It's important to make sure that you have been properly diagnosed. Simple lifestyle changes could be a good alternative, such as cutting back on caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, drinking less before bedtime, and doing Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic muscles that help control urination.
10. Antihistamines (First-generation)
Prescribed for: These medications are used to relieve or prevent allergy symptoms or those of the common cold. Some antihistamines are also used to prevent motion sickness, nausea, vomiting and dizziness, and to treat anxiety or insomnia.
Examples: Brompheniramine (Dimetane), carbinoxamine (Clistin), chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), clemastine (Tavist), diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and hydroxyzine (Vistaril).
How they can cause memory loss: These medications (prescription and over-the-counter) inhibit the action of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that mediates a wide range of functions in the body.
Alternatives: Newer-generation antihistamines such as loratadine (Claritin) and cetirizine (Zyrtec) are better tolerated by older patients and do not present the same risks to memory and cognition.
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