Forgetfulness and mental confusion are often associated with aging, but the fact is, scientists have found that memory loss is not an inevitable part of aging. There are many factors that play a role in memory impairment, including alcohol and drug abuse, heavy smoking, head injuries, stroke, sleep deprivation, severe stress and illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease and depression. Some of these are commonly known to affect memory, but there is one huge factor causing memory loss that is often overlooked. Many commonly prescribed drugs can interfere with memory. If you’re currently taking medication and are having trouble remembering things, one of these may be the culprit.
1. Antianxiety drugs (Benzodiazepines)
Antianxiety drugs are used to treat anxiety disorders, agitation, delirium and muscle spasms, and they are often used to prevent seizures. These drugs have a sedative effect, so they can also be used to treat insomnia and anxiety associated with depression. They work by reducing brain activity to temporarily relieve anxiety, which can lead to unwanted side effects including memory loss.
Examples include: Xanax, Librium, Klonopin, Valium, Ativan, Doral and Restoril.
2. Cholesterol-lowering drugs (Statins)
These drugs are used to treat – you guessed it – high cholesterol. They can impair memory and other mental processes by depleting brain levels of cholesterol, which are vital to the formation of connections between nerve cells – they are the links between learning and memory. A study published in the Pharmacotherapy journal found that three out of four people using these drugs experienced adverse cognitive effects. Researchers also found that 90% of the patients who stopped using the drugs reported improvements in cognition, within days in some cases.
Examples include: Lipitor, Lescol, Mevacor, Pravachol, Crestor and Zocor.
3. Antiseizure drugs
These medications are used to help prevent seizures, as well as treat nerve pain, bipolar disorder, mood disorders and mania. They are believed to limit seizures by dampening the flow of signals within the central nervous system. Any drug that depresses signaling in the central nervous system can affect memory. Check out the long list of side effects, including effects on “thinking and alertness” on a medication called Trokendi XR.
Examples include: Diamox, Tegretol, Potiga, Neurontin, Keppra, Trileptal, Lyrica, and Banzel.
4. Antidepressant drugs (Tricyclic antidepressants)
Known as TCAs, these drugs are prescribed for depression, anxiety disorders, obessive-compulsive disorder, chronic pain and some hormone-mediated disorders, such as menstrual cramps and hot flashes. About 35% of adults taking TCAs report some degree of memory impairment, and about 54% report difficulty concentrating. These drugs can cause memory problems by blocking the action of serotonin and norepinephrine — two of the brain’s key chemical messengers.
Examples include: Elavil, Norpramin, Pamelor, Vivactil, Sinequan and Tofranil.
5. Narcotic painkillers
These medications are used to relieve moderate to severe chronic pain. They work by stemming the flow of pain signals within the central nervous system and blunting a patient’s emotional reaction to pain. Chemical messengers play a main role in this process, which are also involved in many aspects of cognition, so the use of these drugs can interfere with both long-term and short-term memory.
Examples include: Duragesic, Vicodin, Avinza, OxyContin, Exalgo and Percocet.
6. Parkinson’s drugs (Dopamine agonists)
These drugs are used to treat Parkinson’s disease, some pituitary tumors and restless leg syndrome. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder of the central nervous system that causes tremors, muscle stiffness, poor balance and mobility. The drugs work by activating signaling pathways for dopamine — a chemical messenger involved in many brain functions, including motivation, pleasure, motor control, learning and memory. Major side effects can include memory loss, confusion, delusions, hallucinations, drowsiness and compulsive behaviors such as overeating.
Examples include: Apokyn, Mirapex and Requip.
7. Hypertention drugs (Beta-blockers)
Beta-blockers slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure. They are typically prescribed for high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms, but they can also be used to treat chest pain, migraines, tremors and certain types of glaucoma. They can cause memory loss by interfering with key chemical messengers in the brain, including norepinephrine and epinephrine.
Examples include: Tenormin, Coreg, Lopressor, Betapace, Timoptic and Toprol.
8. Sleeping aids (Nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics)
These medications are used to treat insomnia and other sleep problems, and may also be prescribed for mild anxiety. These drugs can cause amnesia and sometimes trigger dangerous or strange behaviors with no recollection of the event, as they act on brain pathways and chemical messengers.
Examples include: Lunesta, Sonata and Ambien.
9. Incontinence drugs (Anticholinergics)
These medications are used to relieve symptoms of an overactive bladder, and reduce the urge to urinate so suddenly and strongly that you can’t get to a bathroom in time. They work by blocking the action of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that mediates functions in the body, including contractions of the muscles that control urine flow. In the brain, they inhibit activity in the memory and learning centers, and the risk of memory loss is heightened when the drugs are taken for a long period of time, or used in combination with other drugs.
Examples include: Enablex, Oxytrol, Ditropan XL, Gelnique, Detrol, Vesicare and Sanctura.
10. Antihistamines (First-generation)
Antihistamines are used to relieve or prevent allergy symptoms, and sometimes symptoms of a cold. They can also be used to prevent motion sickness, nausea, vomiting and dizziness, and treat anxiety and insomnia. They work by inhibiting the action of acetylcholine, which inhibits activity in the brain regarding memory and learning.
Examples include: Dimetane, Clistin, Tavist, Benadryl, and Vistaril.
If you are taking any of these medications and feel that your memory is being affected, talk to your doctor about an alternative solution. Many patients with seizures can use phenytoin (Dilantin), with little or no impact on memory. Newer generation antihistamines such as loratadine (Claritin), and cetirizine (Zyrtec), do not present the same risks to memory and cognition as other medications, and a combination of vitamin B12, folic acid and vitamin B6 can be used to help lower cholesterol levels. Know what you are being prescribed, and what the risks are. It’s always best to stay informed when it comes to your health and well-being.