Alternatives to the drugs should be used, and doctors need to be aware of the dangers of the anticholinergics, especially when prescribing them to older patients aged 70 years and older.
Although the effects of the anticholinergics on the cognitive functions have been highlighted before, researchers have for the first time mapped the changes that happen to the brain. Using brain imaging, researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine were able to observe the way the brains of healthy volunteers shrunk over 18 months while they were taking an anticholinergic. Their memory and problem-solving skills were also tracked during the trial, and compared to other participants who weren’t taking an anticholinergic.
At the time, none of the nearly 500 volunteers, with an average age of 73, suffered from dementia or had cognitive problems.