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Alzheimer's risk linked to anxiety medication

By Katie Grant

Older people who take medication for anxiety or insomnia for a prolonged period could face a substantially higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, researchers have warned.

In a study carried out by the universities of Bordeaux and Montreal, scientists found that the past use of benzodiazepines – commonly prescribed to treat anxiety and sleep disorders – by elderly people for three months or more was associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's of up to 51%.

The authors of the study, published in the British Medical Journal, said that while the nature of the link is still not definitive, the strength of the association increased with longer exposure and with the use of long-acting benzodiazepines rather than short-acting ones.

Benzodiazepines are "indisputably valuable tools for managing anxiety disorders and transient insomnia", they write, but treatments "should not exceed three months".

The researchers say their findings are of major importance, "considering the prevalence and chronicity of benzodiazepine use in elderly populations and the high and increasing incidence of dementia". They said it is crucial to encourage physicians to balance the benefits and risks.

20,000 live with dementia, Page 22

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