Harvard Health Letter

Possible link between benzodiazepines and Alzheimer's disease

Millions of people take benzodiazepines to help them fight anxiety or to sleep better. Examples are diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), and lorazepam (Ativan). A study published Sept. 9, 2014, in the journal BMJ linked long-term benzodiazepine use among older adults to a 43% to 51% increased risk of Alzheimer's disease. Long-term use was considered anything beyond three months. Use of long-acting or extended-release benzodiazepines was associated with higher risk. What should you do if you're taking a benzodiazepine right now? "The study still doesn't prove that benzodiazepines cause dementia, but to avoid that risk, you may want to try alternatives. Don't stop any benzodiazepine abruptly, because you could develop withdrawal symptoms. Taper off the medication, preferably in consultation with your doctor," says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

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