A reader writes:
‘Can medication affect memory?’
We asked Dr Allison Lamont, PhD, memory expert, what the research says.
Reader, this is a very interesting question. And the answer is still being explored by researchers.
In the past, doctors often dismissed forgetfulness as part of normal ageing, but scientists now know that memory loss as you get old is by no means inevitable. We know the brain grows new brain cells and reshapes brain connection throughout our lives.
We are aware of some things that impair memory, such as severe stress, head injuries, stroke, sleep deprivation, drug/alcohol abuse and illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease and depression. And, yes, some commonly prescribed medications can also interfere with memory while they are being taken.
The medication many people are concerned about are the Statins. It is common for people who take Statins to report memory loss, and they have acquired a ‘bad press’. Neuroscientists suggest the opposite, that statins may help prevent dementia. This seems to be because the statins help clear the little blockages too much cholesterol can cause.
Researchers from John Hopkins Medicine looked at 41 different studies on statins to see if there was a link between taking the medication and memory loss. Combined, the studies followed 23,000 men and women with no prior history of memory loss for up to 25 years. There was no evidence that using statins caused memory loss for most users. For those who report they do experience some forgetfulness, this will right itself when you no longer need the medication.
Apart from the statins, there are medications which can temporarily affect your memory.
- Benzodiazepines can dampen activity in key parts of the brain, including those involved in the transfer of information from short-term to long-term memory.
- Tricyclic Antidepressants (alternatives are usually prescribed now) and Beta blockers are thought to affect memory and concentration because they are designed to block the action of serotonin and norepinephrine – two of the brain’s key chemical messengers. It doesn’t affect everyone using them and any memory and concentration effects are totally reversible when the medication is stopped.
It is important to remember that memory loss as we age is not inevitable and we can do so much to keep our own memory sharp and efficient, whether or not we are using medications.
Dr Allison Lamont, PhD Auckland Memory Clinic
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