Group of senior women doing chair exercises

Long-term exposure to anticholinergic and sedative medications is linked to reduced physical function — though not cognitive function — in nursing home residents. 

That’s according to a Dutch study using data from more than 4,600 residents between June 2005 and April 2014. Study participants were assessed for cognitive performance, activities of daily living, walking abilities, daily activity, and time spent outside. Exposure to anticholinergic and sedative medications was calculated using the Drug Burden Index, and results were adjusted for factors such as sex, age, dementia, comorbidities and other medications taken.

The higher a participant’s drug burden score was for these medications over time, the poorer their ADL score. Higher scores also were linked to fewer hours engaged in physical activity and fewer days outside. But there was no significant long-term association between a higher anticholinergic and sedative burden score and poorer cognitive function, reported Hans Wouters, Ph.D., from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands.

Anticholinergic drugs are used to treat a variety of illnesses, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bladder conditions, gastrointestinal disorders and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Almost two-thirds of nursing home residents may have some degree of anticholinergic burden, according to a 2017 study.

“Careful monitoring of aged care residents with high cumulative anticholinergic and sedative medication exposure is needed,” Wouters and colleagues concluded.

The current study was published Aug. 1 in JAMDA.