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A class of medications commonly prescribed to seniors for conditions such as urinary incontinence might increase the risk of mortality among nursing home residents with depression, a recently published study shows.

Anticholinergic drugs have previously been found to increase emergency department and hospital visits for seniors, but little research had been done on the link between the drugs’ use and mortality among nursing home residents, researchers from the University of Houston said. 

Their study, published in June in Drugs & Aging, used nearly 45,000 residents’ Minimum Data Set information. The residents included in the study were prescribed “clinically significant” anticholinergic medications and had previously been diagnosed with depression.

After adjusting for other factors, researchers found that use of an anticholinergic drug was linked to a “significant risk of death.” Overall the study found anticholinergic use to be associated with a 31% increase in mortality risk among residents with depression.

The team said their findings show the “significant need to optimize anticholinergic use in the vulnerable population.”