March 21, 2016
You may have heard news reports linking a popular group of heartburn medications known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to an increased risk for dementia. PPIs, available over the counter and by prescription under brand names like Prevacid, Prilosec and Nexium, are commonly used to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and peptic ulcers.
Should you stop taking these drugs?
Breaking Down the Study
What the study shows: German researchers found that over a 7-year period, people 75 years of age and older who routinely took PPIs had a 44% increased risk dementia compared to people who did not use the drugs. Study participants did not have dementia at the start of the study.
What the study does not show: Researchers did not conclude that PPIs cause dementia, nor could they explain how PPIs might cause the variety of dementia diagnoses participants developed: unspecified dementia (31%), Alzheimer’s disease (3%), vascular dementia (6%), and senile degeneration (1%).
Other Risk Factors Identified
Researchers also found the following factors increased study participants’ risk for developing dementia:
The study was unable to determine the presence of the ApoE4 allele, a genetic factor associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s type dementia. In addition, data on the educational level of participants was not available. Low education is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia.
Shared Risk Factors: GERD and Dementia
Many of the risk factors for developing GERD (obesity, alcohol consumption, smoking, diabetes, poor diet, and certain medications) are themselves risk factors for developing dementia.
Therefore, the study may indicate that older persons with GERD, many of whom are treated with PPIs, are in poorer health overall and are more likely to develop dementias due to their lifestyle choices.
The Bottom Line
The authors noted that further study is needed to determine if there is a direct cause and effect relationship between PPIs and dementia. The best advice is to talk with your doctor who can help you determine if PPIs are the right choice for you. It’s also important to be aware of the warming signs of dementia.
Warning Signs of Dementia
An early warning sign of dementia is memory loss that disrupts daily life:
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at work, home or during leisure activities.
- Having more trouble managing the monthly bills, recipes, or directions to familiar places.
- Confusion regarding time and place.
- Increased problems speaking, reading or writing.
- Frequently misplacing things and being unable to recall where or how to find them.
- Decreased or poor judgment related to finances, being preyed on by scammers.
- Declines in bathing, dressing and grooming.
- Loss of inhibition or withdrawal from social settings.
- Changes in mood and personality: being more confused, suspicious, anxious, fearful, angry or depressed.
If you or a loved one notices these types of changes, seeking a physician consult to assess cognition and rule out treatable causes of confusion and mood declines is important.
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