As I near my final year of clinical psychology doctoral training, answering patients’ bizarre medical questions has become the bright spot in my daily routine. Some highlights include:
1. “My friend said that the only way to cure my depression is to stop masturbating – is this true?”
2. “I know I suffered a concussion two days ago, but would it be a bad idea to still attend my cousin’s Magic Mike-themed bachelorette party in Atlantic City this weekend?”
3. “I’m bored. You’re boring. I think my armpit smells weird. Will you smell my armpit, please?”
In case you’re curious, my answer to all the above-mentioned questions was a resounding “NO.”
Most recently, however, I have often been asked if use of benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Ativan, Klonipin and Valium is associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. And, unlike my answer to those previous questions, my answer is unfortunately “well, maybe.”
In late 2014, the British Medical Journal released this study reporting an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease following benzo use in older adults. The study included over 1,700 older (>66 years) adults diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease who were compared to healthy age and gender matched controls on a number of health variables.
Researchers found that taking a benzo for three months or less was comparable to never having taken the medication in regards to increasing one’s risk for developing dementia. However, three to six month use of benzos raised the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 32%, while taking it for six months or more raised the risk by 84%.
If your reaction to this is thank God I’m 20 and I only take my Klonipin when I really need it, there still may be cause for concern. Prolonged use of benzodiazepines is associated with decreased memory and learning abilities, even in younger and middle aged adults. However, whether or not prolonged use of benzos among younger adults is associated with an early onset Alzheimer’s dementia remains unknown.
Well-designed longitudinal studies are needed to further determine the relationship between benzo use and early cognitive decline. However, it is important to note that benzodiazepines were originally developed for short-term use only and prolonged use could possibly cause harm to your cognitive health down the line. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about the benzodiazepine medication you may be taking.
For more information about Alzheimer’s disease, visit www.alz.org