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Long-term Use of Pills For Anxiety And Sleep Problems Associated With Alzheimer's

Update Date: Sep 11, 2014 09:08 AM EDT
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Widely prescribed drug to treat anxiety and insomnia, benzodiazepines, has been linked to increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, particularly for long-term users, according to a new study.

Researchers warned that unwarranted long-term use should be considered a public health concern.

Around 36 million people worldwide are affected with dementia and the figure is expected to double every 20 years. 

Using data from the Quebec health insurance program database (RAMQ), researchers tracked the development of Alzheimer's disease in a sample of elderly residents living in Quebec, Canada who had been prescribed benzodiazepines, the press release said.

Over a period of six years, 1,796 cases of Alzheimer's disease were identified. 

Researchers emphasized on the fact that nature of the link is still not definitive, but stronger association can be seen with long-term exposures "reinforces the suspicion of a possible direct association, even if benzodiazepine use might also be an early marker of a condition associated with an increased risk of dementia," the press release quoted.

According to researchers benzodiazepines are "indisputably valuable tools for managing anxiety disorders and transient insomnia" they write, but warn that treatments "should be of short duration and not exceed three months," according to the press release.

Researchers concluded that their 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."

The study was published in the journal BMJ.

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