Q. My wife has taken clonazepam for more than 15 years now and shows signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Is there clinical evidence to support this connection?
A. Clonazepam belongs to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines (benzos). They are among the most widely prescribed medications in the U.S. Other drugs in this category include alprazolam, diazepam, flurazepam, lorazepam and temazepam.
Such medications are prescribed for the short-term relief of symptoms of anxiety or insomnia. Physicians may prescribe certain benzos to ease muscle spasms or help control seizure disorders.
A Canadian study published in the journal BMJ (online, Sept. 9, 2014) reported a link between benzodiazepines and an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in older people. The longer people used such medications, the greater their risk of developing dementia.
Similar results were revealed in a long-term French study (BMJ, online, Sept. 27, 2012). The authors concluded that
“The findings of this large prospective population based study show that new use of benzodiazepines is associated with an approximately 50% increase in the risk of dementia.”
It is impossible to say whether any given individual’s long-term use of such medications contributed to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, but researchers are cautioning that benzos can increase the risk of falls and fractures and could have a negative impact on mental functioning when taken over a long period of time.
Do NOT Stop Benzos Suddenly!
When health professionals prescribe or dispense benzodiazepines they may not mention that stopping such medications can be challenging (and that is a nice way to describe the problem). Many people report severe symptoms such as anxiety, restlessness, jitteriness, agitation, irritability, impaired concentration, panic, insomnia, faulty memory, depression, headache, fatigue, muscle cramps, muscle twitching, seizures, sweating, diarrhea, blurred vision and decreased appetite.
It is always hard to comprehend such a long list of adverse reactions. Here is the human face of alprazolam withdrawal from D.P.