Commonly used drugs can quicken cognitive decline in elderly, reports say

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Anticholinergics - a group of drugs commonly prescribed to treat conditions such as Parkinson's disease, urinary incontinence and acid reflux - may cause a more rapid decline in cognitive function among the elderly than previously thought, according to investigators.

Two new studies from the Wake Forest University's school of medicine show that not only do the drugs diminish mental capacity, they also have an impact on physical performance.

Anticholinergics are pharmacological opposites to cholinesterase inhibitors, a group of drugs used to treat dementia, which could lead to reduced effectiveness of one or both of the drugs, lead author Kaycee M. Sink said.

Of more than 3,500 seniors studied, those who took anticholinergics functioned more slowly and needed more assistance with activities of daily living than those who did not take the drugs. Sink likened their diminished physical abilities to those of someone three to four years older.

In a separate report published recently in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, Sink discovered that Alzheimer's patients who were taking some form of anticholinergics to treat incontinence had a 50% faster rate of mental decline than Alzheimer's patients who were only being treated for dementia.

Results of the first study were presented Saturday at the American Geriatrics Society annual meeting in Washington.