As part of a new study by the University of California, San Diego, a team of researchers uncovered that the acetylcholine inhibitors, or anticholinergic drugs, may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in older adults. The study was released in the journal Neurology.
Anticholinergic drugs are used to inhibit acetylcholine at synapses in the central and the peripheral nervous system, blocking parasympathetic nerve impulses.
In the new study, researchers set out to determine if there are any implications those types of medications can have on cognitive health, particularly among older adults who are cognitively normal. The research also looked at the interactive effects of genetic and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) Alzheimer’s disease risk factors.
To establish if there are implications, the research team evaluated more than 650 cognitively healthy participants from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. Over a span of 10 years, their risk of progression to mild cognitive impairment was assessed.
“Linear mixed effects models examined 3-year rates of decline in memory, executive function, and language as a function of aCH. Interactions with APOE ε4 genotype and CSF biomarker evidence of AD pathology were also assessed,” according to the co-authors.
What researchers noticed was that the participants who consumed at least one anticholinergic drug at baseline had a nearly 50 percent higher risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, a condition often leading to a subsequent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
The findings establish the need for more research probing the potential for negative effects on memory and thinking skills from anticholinergic drugs, particularly in older adults who are already at a greater risk of cognitive decline.