According to a recently updated article in AARP, antianxiety drugs (benzodiazepines) top the list of memory-robbing medications. Benzodiazepines include drugs such as alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), and many others.
In the article, Dr. Armon B. Neel, Jr. stated that "benzodiazepines dampen activity in key parts of the brain, including those involved with the transfer of events from short-term to long-term memory." He cautioned that benzodiazepines should be "prescribed only rarely in older adults, and then only for short periods of time." Benzodiazepines not only can cause memory issues in this population, but also contribute to falls, fractures, and motor vehicle accidents, among other complications.
Benzodiazepines dampen activity in key parts of the brain... — Dr. Armon B. Neel Jr., AARP Health
The author also cautioned against abrupt cessation and advised patients to consult with a physician before stopping or reducing their prescription. Stopping benzodiazepines abruptly can lead to hallucinations, seizures, and even death. Patients are advised to work with a physician familiar with benzodiazepine withdrawal if they choose to reduce their medication. Most experts recommend a slow taper under doctor supervision.
Nonbenzodiazepines (Z-drugs), which have similar effects to benzodiazepines, are number five on this list. This class of drugs includes eszopiclone (Lunesta), zaleplon (Sonata), and zolpidem (Ambien). While Z-drugs have a completely different chemical structure to benzodiazepines, they do have similar effects and withdrawal complications. The author cautioned that Z-drugs "also can cause amnesia and sometimes trigger dangerous or strange behaviors, such as cooking a meal or driving a car with no recollection of the event upon awakening."
The list of medications that can cause memory loss includes:
Antianxiety drugs (benzodiazepines)
Sleeping aids (nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics)
Incontinence drugs (anticholinergics)
Antihistamines (first generation)
Other medications of concern include corticosteroids, heartburn medications, and cannabinoids.
It is important to remember that while memory loss can be an effect of benzodiazepine and nonbenzodiazepine (Z-drug) use, and that long-term use has been associated with an increased risk of dementia in some studies, the return of memory and cognitive function after discontinuation is also quite common. This process may take some time for some individuals, but most accounts of benzodiazepine withdrawal include gradual improvement after the drug and its effects are removed from the body.
If you are concerned about benzodiazepines or Z-drugs and their effects, please consult with a licensed physician. Do not attempt to reduce or discontinue any prescription without professional medical guidance.
Foster, D E. "5 Dangers of Benzodiazepine Use in the Elderly." Easing Anxiety. April 26, 2019. https://www.easinganxiety.com/post/5-dangers-of-benzodiazepine-use-in-the-elderly.
Benzodiazepine Deprescribing Guidance. Benzodiazepine Action Work Group at the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention. https://corxconsortium.org/wp-content/uploads/Benzo-Deprescribing.pdf.
Neel Jr., Armon B. "Caution! These Drugs Can Cause Memory Loss." AARP Health. February 9, 2016. Updated April 14, 2023. https://www.aarp.org/health/drugs-supplements/info-2017/caution-these-10-drugs-can-cause-memory-loss.html.
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