As efforts are made to treat more acute conditions, memory problems, memory loss, confusion, and cognitive decline are often overlooked as a normal part of aging. But experts say that memory loss and cognitive health are not inevitable as we age. Even as the human brain ages, it can grow new brain cells and form new neural connections.
Some things can cause memory and cognitive symptoms, such as alcohol and drug abuse, stroke, head injury, insomnia, vitamin B12 deficiency, severe stress, and Alzheimer’s disease. But what most people don’t know is that many common prescription drugs can affect memory. Read on to learn about some medications that can cause memory loss.
WHICH PRESCRIPTION DRUGS ARE RELATED TO MEMORY LOSS?
Over-the-counter and prescription drugs can cause memory side effects. Certain medications have been linked to Alzheimer’s and other dementias. In the following paragraphs, we will describe some common prescription drugs that can affect memory and cause memory loss.
Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety medications used to treat anxiety, insomnia, delirium, agitation, and muscle spasms. Examples include diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), lorazepam (Ativan), and temazepam (Restoril).
Benzodiazepines slow down the activity of the central nervous system, affecting the parts of the brain involved in the transfer of short-term memories to long-term memories. Benzodiazepines are prescribed with caution in the elderly due to reduced kidney and liver function. Accumulation of benzodiazepines can lead to memory loss, delirium, and other cognitive problems.
Anticholinergic drugs are used to treat overactive bladder and urinary incontinence. Examples of diuretics include oxybutynin (Ditropan XL, Oxytrol, Gelnique), darifenacin (Enablex), solifenacin (Vesicare), trospium (Sanctura), and tolterodine (Detrol). Oxytrol for women is an anticholinergic skin patch in addition to prescription medications.
Anticholinergic drugs work by blocking the activity of acetylcholine, an important chemical messenger involved in many functions of the human body. Anticholinergic drugs can relieve urinary symptoms by preventing bladder muscle spasms and contractions. However, anticholinergic agents affect the central nervous system, particularly the memory and learning centers of the brain. Long-term use of anticholinergics or concomitant use of other anticholinergics increases the risk of memory loss. Anticholinergic drugs are at risk of adverse effects in the elderly because of reduced kidney and liver function.
Non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics are a class of drugs used to treat insomnia, often referred to as sleeping pills. Examples include zolpidem (Ambien), zaleplon (Sonata) and eszopiclone (Lunesta).
Although sleeping pills are not the same as benzodiazepines, they affect brain chemicals and nerve pathways in the central nervous system. Sleeping pills can cause amnesia (memory loss) and serious psychiatric side effects such as behavioral changes, sleep disturbances, and depression.
Statins are common drugs that cause memory loss. These are cholesterol-lowering drugs for people with high cholesterol. Examples include simvastatin (Zocor), atorvastatin (Lipitor), rosuvastatin (Crestor), pravastatin (Pravachol), lovastatin (Mevacor), and fluvastatin (Lescol).
Cholesterol-lowering drugs not only lower cholesterol in the blood, but also lower cholesterol in the brain, which is thought to impair memory and other cognitive processes. In fact, the human brain contains a quarter of the total cholesterol in the body. The brain needs lipids to build connections between neurons, which are essential for memory, learning, and overall brain health.
Certain medications used to treat seizures (seizures or epilepsy), nerve pain, depression, and bipolar disorder can cause memory problems. For example, valproic acid (Depakote), carbamazepine (Tegretol), lamotrigine (Lamictal), oxcarbazepine (Trileptal), topiramate (Topamax), levetiracetam (Keppra), acetazolamide (Diamox), gabapentin (Neurontin), pregabalin (Egabricain), Potiga) , rufinamide (Banzel), zonisamide (Zonegran).
Anticonvulsants work by slowing signals in the central nervous system. Like all drugs that slow the brain, they can cause memory loss.
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are indicated for depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, chronic pain, nerve pain, smoking cessation, hot flashes, and heavy periods.
l cramps, and other hormone-mediated conditions. Examples include amitriptyline (Elavil), nortriptyline (Pamelor), desipramine (Norpramin), clomipramine (Anafranil), imipramine (Tofranil), doxepin (Sinequan), trimipramine (Surmontil), and protriptyline (Vivactil).
Tricyclic antidepressants are believed to cause memory problems because they block the action of norepinephrine and serotonin, which are two of the key chemical messengers in the brain responsible for modulating cognition and memory.
These medications (also called opioid analgesics) are used to provide pain relief from moderate to severe pain. Examples include oxycodone (OxyContin, Roxicodone), hydrocodone with acetaminophen (Norco, Vicodin), morphine (MS-Contin, Kadian), hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo), and fentanyl (Duragesic).
Narcotic pain medications work by stopping pain signals in the central nervous system from being sent to pain receptors throughout the body, thus, blocking the feeling of pain. The key chemical messengers that mediate these effects of narcotic painkillers are also involved in memory and cognition. Therefore, narcotic painkillers can lead to long-term and short-term memory problems. The risk is especially high when narcotic painkillers are taken for a long time.
Dopamine agonists are used to treat Parkinson’s disease, certain types of brain tumors, and restless legs syndrome (RLS). Examples include pramipexole (Mirapex), ropinirole (Requip), and apomorphine (Apokyn).
Parkinson’s drugs activate dopamine signaling pathways and are medications that may cause memory loss. Dopamine is a chemical messenger needed for brain functions such as learning, memory, pleasure, motivation, and fine motor control. Side effects of Parkinson’s drugs can include drowsiness, confusion, memory loss, delusions, hallucinations, and compulsive behaviors such as gambling or overeating.
Beta-blockers are a group of medications that are prescribed to treat high blood pressure, chest pain (angina), abnormal heart rhythms, congestive heart failure, migraines, and tremors. They also come in eye drop form to treat some types of glaucoma. Examples of beta-blockers include atenolol (Tenormin), metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol), propranolol (Inderal), carvedilol (Coreg), sotalol (Betapace), and timolol (Timoptic).
It is believed that beta-blockers may cause memory problems by blocking the action of epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are key chemical messengers in the central nervous system.
Antihistamines are commonly prescribed medications that are also available over the counter. They are used to relieve or prevent allergy symptoms, motion sickness, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. Examples include diphenhydramine (Benadryl), chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), brompheniramine (Dimetane), clemastine (Tavist), hydroxyzine (Vistaril), and carbinoxamine (Colistin).
Antihistamine drugs block the action of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that is involved in numerous functions in the body, including functions in the memory and learning centers of the brain. First-generation (older) allergy medications may cause memory loss. However, newer antihistamines, cetirizine (Zyrtec) and loratadine (Claritin) are less likely to cause problems with memory and cognition.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What medications can cause dementia symptoms?
Anticholinergic drugs are associated with one of the highest risks of causing severe dementia. Antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, anti-seizure drugs, and anti-Parkinson’s drugs may also have negative effects on memory and cognition in the long run. Please talk to your doctor if you have concerns or questions about the side effects of these medications.
What drugs are linked to Alzheimer’s?
Studies have found that people who take certain antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, antiparkinson drugs, antimuscarinics (anticholinergic drugs), and antiepileptic drugs may have a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.
What medications can cause cognitive problems?
Antidepressants, anticonvulsants, psychoactive drugs, and antihistamines can cause confusion, delirium, dementia, and acute or chronic cognitive impairment.
The information contained in this article about medications that may cause memory loss does not constitute medical advice and should not be followed without a consultation with a health care professional. All the drugs mentioned above are FDA-approved to treat specific conditions. If you are worried that one of your prescription or over-the-counter medications may be the trigger for memory problems, talk to your health professional about alternative treatment options. Do not stop taking a medication without talking to your doctor first.