Anti-anxiety agents and sleeping pills may put older people at increased risk for dementia. That is the conclusion of a long-term French study of senior citizens. Over 1000 men and women were recruited in the late 1980s. They were 65 or older and were followed up for 15 years. None had signs of Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive impairment at the start of the study and none were taking benzodiazepines such as Valium, Librium or Xanax. These volunteers were assessed every couple years during the course of the study. Experts evaluated their memory, mood, and medication use.
Almost a third of the people who began taking anti-anxiety drugs during the study had developed dementia by the end of it. 23 percent of those who did not take such medications were diagnosed with cognitive impairment. The investigators concluded that “new use of benzodiazepines was associated with a significant, approximately 50% increase in the risk of dementia.”