Sleeping pills and anti-anxiety drugs should be avoided. Because these drugs act in a powerful manner on brain chemistry, significant changes in brain function can occur leading to poor mental function, depression, and anxiety. These drugs have a long list of side effects and have been shown to lead to a dramatic increase in premature death including increasing the risk of developing cancer by 35%. Nonetheless, about 10% of the adult population in the United States is using prescription sleeping pills on a nightly basis.
In three out of five previous studies, benzodiazepine drugs like valium and diazepam showed an increased risk for dementia. One study was done in Taiwan in people >45 years old and found a 25% increased risk of dementia in chronic users (>6 months). In a study in France in people >65 years old the risk was a whopping 230% increase over an eight-year period. In a study in the U.K., the risk was even greater over a 22-year follow up – a dramatic 294% increase.
The two studies that did not find an increased risk of dementia among elderly people using benzodiazepines had issues with the structure of the study; one was too small to show statistical significance and the other group did not separate past users from the comparison group to new users.
In another study conducted in France, 1,063 men and women (average age 78.2 years) who were free of dementia and did not start taking benzodiazepines until at least the third year of follow-up were evaluated over a 15-year period. New use of benzodiazepines was associated with a 60% increased risk of developing dementia. Sensitivity analysis considering the existence of depressive symptoms showed a similar risk. However, it was not stated whether the depression was associated with the benzodiazepine use (depression is a known side effect of these drugs).
The analysis also showed that any history of chronic benzodiazepine use was associated with an approximately 50% increase in the risk of dementia compared with never users.
This study provides even more evidence that chronic use of these drugs need to be avoided, especially in the elderly.
Billioti de Gage S, Bégaud B, Bazin F. Benzodiazepine use and risk of dementia: prospective population based study. BMJ 2012;345:e6231