Alzheimer’s Disease

Could medications contribute to dementia?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD

Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

A study found that people over 65 who were taking an anticholinergic medication (drugs that block the chemical messenger acetylcholine) were more likely to eventually be diagnosed with dementia, but these results don’t show that this class of drugs definitively causes dementia.

New study downplays potential risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease among elderly men treated with hormonal therapy for prostate cancer

Charlie Schmidt

Editor, Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Diseases

The male hormone testosterone contributes to normal brain function, and some research links memory loss in older men to testosterone declines that occur naturally with aging. However, testosterone is also like jet fuel for prostate tumors, causing them to grow faster, so during cancer treatment doctors will often give hormonal therapies that suppress its activities […]

Can getting quality sleep help prevent Alzheimer’s disease?

Matthew Solan

Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Sleep gives the brain the opportunity to rid itself of proteins believed to contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and now research is showing an association between poor sleep and the accumulation of those proteins.

Super-agers: This special group of older adults suggests you can keep your brain young and spry

Matthew Solan

Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

While some people seem genetically predisposed to retain mental sharpness in old age, there are things anyone can do that can help maintain cognitive ability, or perhaps improve it.

A healthy lifestyle may help you sidestep Alzheimer’s

By now it’s evident that healthy lifestyle habits have clear benefits, and evidence suggests that keeping Alzheimer’s disease at bay may eventually be added to the list. Data are strongest for regular exercise, a Mediterranean diet, and sufficient sleep as important ways to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Other lifestyle choices may help as well.

A twist on the genetic link between Alzheimer’s and heart disease

Although the two conditions seem unrelated, Alzheimer’s and heart disease actually share a genetic link. People who have a certain gene variant have both a somewhat elevated heart disease risk and a significantly elevated Alzheimer’s risk. Fortunately, a recent study has suggested that when people know they have this variant, they’re more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices that benefit their heart — and what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.

Decline in dementia rate offers “cautious hope”

Beverly Merz

Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Last year, the Alzheimer’s Association predicted that rates of dementia would continue to rise. However, a report recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that rates of dementia have actually dropped steadily over the past three decades. Whether the drop in rates applies to everyone, and whether it will continue, remain to be seen. But the evidence also confirms that there’s quite a lot you can do to lower your dementia risk.

Editorial calls for more research on link between football and brain damage


Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

Is brain damage an inevitable consequence of American football, an avoidable risk of it, or neither? An editorial published yesterday in the medical journal BMJ poses those provocative questions. Chad Asplund, director of sports medicine at Georgia Regents University, and Thomas Best, professor and chair of sports medicine at Ohio State University, offer an overview of the unresolved connection between playing football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a type of gradually worsening brain damage caused by repeated mild brain injuries or concussions. The big question is whether playing football causes chronic traumatic encephalopathy or whether some people who play football already at higher risk for developing it. The Football Players Health Study at Harvard University hopes to provide a solid answer to that and other health issues that affect professional football players.

Common anticholinergic drugs like Benadryl linked to increased dementia risk

Beverly Merz

Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

A new report from the University of Washington links long-term use of anticholinergic medications and dementia. Anticholinergic drugs block the action of acetylcholine. This substance transmits messages in the nervous system. In the brain, acetylcholine is involved in learning and memory. In the rest of the body, it stimulates muscle contractions. Anticholinergic drugs include some antihistamines, tricyclic antidepressants, medications to control overactive bladder, and drugs to relieve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The study found that people who used anticholinergic drugs were more likely to have developed dementia as those who didn’t use them. Dementia risk increased with the cumulative dose. Taking an anticholinergic for the equivalent of three years or more was associated with a 54% higher dementia risk than taking the same dose for three months or less. Safer alternatives to anticholinergic drugs exist.

Benzodiazepine use may raise risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Beverly Merz

Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Drugs in the benzodiazepine family have long been used to treat anxiety and sleep problems. They can cause a bit of a brain hangover the next day. Experts have long assumed that people’s heads would clear once they stopped taking the drug. That may not be the case. In a study published last night by the journal BMJ, a team of researchers from France and Canada linked benzodiazepine use to an increased risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In the study, the greater a person’s cumulative dose of benzodiazepines, the higher his or her risk of Alzheimer’s. Taking a benzodiazepine for less than three months had no effect on Alzheimer’s risk. Taking the drug for three to six months raised the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 32%, and taking it for more than six months boosted the risk by 84%. People taking a long-acting benzodiazepine were at greater risk than those on a short-acting one.