The National Institute on Aging is providing researchers with $3.5 million for a five-year study on the effectiveness of an app that will help people avoid a class of drugs that could increase dementia risk.
Recent studies have found that anticholinergic medications could increase dementia risk by 50 percent and could even cause symptoms that masquerade as dementia in seniors. While anticholinergic drugs are prescribed to one in three older Americans, many people are unaware of the risks that come with taking them. This class of drugs has a wide range of uses, from treating depression to working as a sleep aid, and is available as over-the-counter medication or through a prescription.
“Exposure to anticholinergic medications is a risk factor linked to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia that you can take steps to change,” said Richard Holden, PhD, who is leading the team of researchers from Indiana University School of Medicine, Regenstrief Institute and Purdue University. “Interventions to lower this risk are urgently needed. We hope this app will raise awareness and provide information to people, allowing them to take action to protect their brain health.”
An earlier study helped researchers build the foundation for the app, known as Brain Safe, and found that many people taking anticholinergics were concerned about the risks, but not properly apprised of them. A follow-up study focused on the app’s efficiency.
The latest study, called “Brain Safe: Consumer Intervention to Reduce Exposure to Drugs Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease,” is a randomized controlled trial that will look at 700 older adults who are receiving care at Eskenazi Health and Indiana University Health. The researchers plan to test how effective the Brain Safe app is at preventing participants from taking certain anticholinergic drugs that could affect their brain. They will also examine how the app impacts participants’ cognitive abilities and quality of life based on their health.
Researchers at The Center for Aging Research have been studying the risks of anticholinergic drugs for more than a decade. They have found that nearly 70 percent of people have taken one of these drugs at least once in the last 10 years.
Together, these studies and the Brain Safe app will help researchers figure out what clinical interventions work to delay, prevent or mitigate the damage anticholinergics may cause to the brain.