Harvard Women's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: Is there a connection between sedatives and Alzheimer's?

Q. I read somewhere that benzodiazepines cause Alzheimer's disease. I took Valium for a few weeks after my husband died. How does this change my risk of dementia?

A. In September, a team of researchers from France and Canada reported that in people over age 66, those who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease were more likely to have used benzodiazepines—a category that includes Valium (diazepam) and similar drugs—during the preceding five years than were people who didn't have Alzheimer's. Using the drugs continuously for three to six months was associated with a 32% higher risk than using them for three months or less; using them for six months or more was associated with an 84% greater risk. People who took benzodiazepines for three months or less had no higher risk than those who had never taken them.

However, that was an observational study, not a controlled clinical trial. Although it showed an association, we still can't say that benzodiazepines actually cause Alzheimer's. And since you took Valium for a relatively brief period, I doubt that your risk of dementia has increased as a result.

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