Mental confusion and forgetfulness are often associated with aging, but the fact is, scientists have found that memory loss is not an inevitable part of aging. There are many factors that play a role in memory impairment, including alcohol, heavy smoking, drug abuse, head injuries, sleep deprivation, stroke, severe stress and illnesses such as depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
Some of these are commonly known to affect memory, but there is one huge factor causing memory loss that is often overlooked. Many commonly prescribed drugs can interfere with memory. If you’re currently taking medication and are having trouble remembering things, one of these may be the culprit.
By investigating some of the common medications that people use today, researchers have determined that the following 10 classes of medication may actually be contributing to memory loss:
1. Antidepressant drugs (Tricyclic Antidepressants)
Besides depression, these drugs are prescribed for a variety of psychological complications, such as eating disorders, chronic pain, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, more than a third of adults taking the medication report episodes of memory loss, and half claim to have trouble concentrating.
Examples: Amitriptyline (Elavil), Clomipramine (Anafranil), Desipramine (Norpramin), Doxepin (Sinequan), Imipramine (Tofranil).
2. Hypertension drugs (Beta-Blockers)
By slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure, these drugs have been recognized as an effective treatment for heart-related conditions including congestive heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms, and high blood pressure. However, they also block key chemical messengers in the brain including norepinephrine and epinephrine which interferes with the body’s ability to create and maintain memories.
Examples: Atenolol (Tenormin), Carvedilol (Coreg), Metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol), Propranolol (Inderal), Sotalol (Betapace), Timolol (Timoptic)
3. Antiseizure drugs
These medications are used to help prevent seizures, as well as treat nerve pain, bipolar disorder, mood disorders and mania. They are believed to limit seizures by dampening the flow of signals within the central nervous system. Any drug that depresses signaling in the central nervous system can affect memory.
Examples: Acetazolamide (Diamox), Carbamazepine (Tegretol), Ezogabine (Potiga), Gabapentin (Neurontin), Lamotrigine (Lamictal), Levetiracetam (Keppra), Oxcarbazepine (Trileptal), Pregabalin (Lyrica), Rufinamide (Banzel), Topiramate (Topamax), Valproic Acid (Depakote), Zonisamide (Zonegran).
4. Antihistamines (First-generation)
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. These medications inhibit the action of acetylcholine, which inhibits activity in the brain regarding memory and learning.
Examples: Brompheniramine (Dimetane), Carbinoxamine (Clistin), Chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), Clemastine (Tavist), Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), Hydroxyzine (Vistaril)
5. Antianxiety drugs (Benzodiazepines)
Antianxiety drugs are used to treat anxiety disorders, agitation, delirium and muscle spasms, and they are often used to prevent seizures. These drugs have a sedative effect, so they can also be used to treat insomnia and anxiety associated with depression. They work by reducing brain activity to temporarily relieve anxiety, which can lead to unwanted side effects including memory loss.
Examples: Alprazolam (Xanax), Chlordiazepoxide (Librium), Clonazepam (Klonopin), Diazepam (Valium), Flurazepam (Dalmane), Lorazepam (Ativan), Midazolam (Versed), Quazepam (Doral), Temazepam (Restoril), Triazolam (Halcion)
6. Narcotic painkillers
Used for the treatment of chronic pain such as that caused by a serious injury or conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, narcotic painkillers interrupt the flow of pain signals within the body’s nervous system, numbing one’s emotional reaction to physical pain in the body. Some of these chemical messengers that are being blocked, however, are the same messengers responsible for communication with the memory center of our brain. Long-term use has been associated with problems both with long-term and short-term memory.
Examples: Fentanyl (Duragesic), Hydrocodone (Norco, Vicodin), Hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo), Morphine (Astramorph, Avinza), Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
7. Incontinence drugs (Anticholinergics)
These drugs are most often used for the treatment of overactive bladder, managing symptoms including the frequency and urgency of urination. They work by blocking a chemical messenger called acetylcholine, and in doing so they prevent the involuntary contractions of the muscles around the bladder that control urine flow, however, this chemical is also necessary for the proper function of the memory center of the brain. Researchers found that the impact of these medications was comparable to approximately 10 years of cognitive aging.
Examples: Darifenacin (Enablex), Oxybutynin (Ditropan XL, Gelnique, Oxytrol), Solifenacin (Vesicare), Tolterodine (Detrol), Trospium (Sanctura).
8. Cholesterol-lowering drugs (Statins)
These drugs are used to treat high cholesterol. They can impair memory and other mental processes by depleting brain levels of cholesterol, which are vital to the formation of connections between nerve cells – they are the links between learning and memory. A study published in the Pharmacotherapy journal found that three out of four people using these drugs experienced adverse cognitive effects. Researchers also found that 90 percent of the patients who stopped using the drugs reported improvements in cognition, within days in some cases.
Examples: Atorvastatin (Lipitor), Fluvastatin (Lescol), Lovastatin (Mevacor), Pravastatin (Pravachol), Rosuvastatin (Crestor), Simvastatin (Zocor)
9. Parkinson’s drugs (Dopamine agonists)
These drugs are used to treat Parkinson’s disease, certain pituitary tumors and, increasingly, restless legs syndrome (RLS). The drugs work by activating signaling pathways for dopamine – a chemical messenger involved in many brain functions, including motivation, pleasure, motor control, learning, and memory. Major side effects can include memory loss, confusion, delusions, hallucinations, drowsiness and compulsive behaviors such as overeating.
Examples: Apomorphine (Apokyn), Pramipexole (Mirapex), Ropinirole (Requip)
10. Sleeping aids (Nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics)
These medications are used to treat insomnia and other sleep problems, and may also be prescribed for mild anxiety. These drugs can cause amnesia and sometimes trigger dangerous or strange behaviors with no recollection of the event, as they act on brain pathways and chemical messengers.
Examples: Eszopiclone (Lunesta), Zaleplon (Sonata), Zolpidem (Ambien)