Seniors dealing with insomnia or anxiety might want to take it easy on commonly prescribed drugs such as Ativan, Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin, a new study in the British Medical Journal suggests. Researchers in Canada found what looks to be a strong link between Alzheimer's and this class of drugs, called benzodiazepines, reports the CBC. Specifically, those who took the drugs for longer than 3 months were 51% more likely to develop the disease. The study compared 1,800 people age 65 and older recently diagnosed with about 7,100 seniors who did not have Alzheimer's.
The findings don't establish definitive proof that long-term use of benzodiazepines causes Alzheimer's, "but it does strengthen such suspicions," observes the Los Angeles Times. Scientists already knew that benzodiazepines take a toll on memory and mental sharpness, and the study authors write that their findings make it crucial for doctors "to carefully balance the risks and benefits when initiating or renewing a treatment with benzodiazepines and related products in older patients." The American Geriatrics Society already considers the drugs a bad choice for seniors, writes Alice Walton at Forbes. "It may be time for doctors to listen to this recommendation." (Scratch-and-sniff tests might someday help diagnose the ailment.)