Do Benzodiazepines Increase the Risk for Dementia?

Alan R. Jacobs, MD


April 22, 2016

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This is the Medscape Neurology Minute. I'm Dr Alan Jacobs.

Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle have published a longitudinal observational study examining whether higher cumulative use of benzodiazepines is associated with increased risk for dementia or rate of cognitive decline.[1]

They studied 3434 participants, age 65 or older, who were dementia-free at study onset, and followed them for 7 years. Cognitive screening was carried out every 2 years, and benzodiazepine use was assessed via computerized pharmacy data over a 10-year period.

During follow-up, 797 participants (23%) developed dementia, and 637 (80%) of these developed Alzheimer disease.

The researchers found no association between the highest level of benzodiazepine use and dementia or cognitive decline. They did find a small increased risk for dementia in subjects with low (up to 1 month) or moderate (between 1 and 4 months) use, which the researchers attributed to treating prodromal or early symptoms of Alzheimer disease.

They concluded that these results do not support a causal association between benzodiazepine use and dementia. However, they still emphasize that benzodiazepine use in older adults carries risks of adverse health outcomes, withdrawal, and dependence.

This has been the Medscape Neurology Minute, I'm Dr Alan Jacobs.


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