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Common Anxiety Pills Boost Dementia Risk

Update Date: Sep 09, 2014 06:31 PM EDT

Taking medication for anxiety and sleep problems could increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease, a new study suggests.

Previous studies have found that benzodiazepine users were more likely to develop dementia. However, researchers have been unable to determine whether there was a causal link between benzodiazepines and dementia. However, new research reveals that, while still not definitive, there is substantial evidence that benzodiazepine use increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers said the latest study, which examined the long-term use of benzodiazepines in elderly residents living in Canada, found that using the pills for three months of longer increased the risk of Alzheimer's disease by up to 51 percent.

Researchers also found a dose-response relationship between benzodiazepines and the neurodegenerative disorder. Researchers found that the risk of dementia was higher in people with longer exposure of long-acting benzodiazepines than those exposed to short-acting ones.

The findings held true even after adjusting for anxiety, depression and sleep disorders.

While benzodiazepines are "indisputably valuable tools for managing anxiety disorders and transient insomnia" researchers wrote that the pills "should be of short duration and not exceed three months," according to the study.

Researchers wrote that the latest findings are of "major importance for public health, especially considering the prevalence and chronicity of benzodiazepine use in elderly populations and the high and increasing incidence of dementia in developed countries."

"It is now crucial to encourage physicians to carefully balance the benefits and risks when initiating or renewing a treatment with benzodiazepines and related products in elderly patients," they concluded.

The findings were published in the British Medical Journal.

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