Memory loss is often interpreted as a sign of aging, a repercussion of substance abuse, or symptomatic of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. What many don’t know is that episodes of forgetfulness can also be side effects of common prescription drugs.
“Scientists now know that memory loss as you get older is by no means inevitable,” writes Dr. Armon B. Neel, a geriatric pharmacist with the AARP. “Indeed, the brain can grow new brain cells and reshape their connections throughout life.”
To raise public awareness of the unknown, deleterious side effects of some medication, Dr. Neel has put together a list of drugs known to induce forgetfulness in some patients.
Is memory loss interfering with your daily life? One of these commonly prescribed drugs may be the culprit.
Antianxiety Drugs (Benzodiazepines)
Examples: alprazolam (Xanax), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), flurazepam (Dalmane), lorazepam (Ativan)
These drugs are usually prescribed against anxiety disorders, agitation, muscle spasms, and delirium. However, by suppressing certain key areas of the brain, these pills may interfere with the transfer of data from short-term memory to long-term memory. Benzodiazepines are commonly used by anesthesiologists for this very reason.
To avoid these side effects, pharmacists recommend limited courses for short periods of time. If you suffer from a particular anxiety-related complication, such as insomnia, alternative treatments may be a better choice.
Cholesterol Drugs (Statins)
Examples: atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol), lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin (Crestor) and simvastatin (Zocor)
Statins lower the cholesterol levels in your blood; however, they may lower levels in the brain as well. If this happens, connections between nerve cells may suffer.
If you take statins for slightly elevated cholesterol levels rather than a diagnosed coronary disease, a cocktail of vitamins may be a better choice.
“Ask your doctor or other health care provider about instead taking a combination of sublingual (under-the-tongue) vitamin B12 (1,000 mcg daily), folic acid (800 mcg daily) and vitamin B6 (200 mg daily),” Dr. Neel recommends.
Antidepressant Drugs (Tricyclic antidepressants)
Examples: amitriptyline (Elavil), clomipramine (Anafranil), desipramine (Norpramin), doxepin (Sinequan), imipramine (Tofranil)
Besides depression, these drugs are prescribed for a variety of psychological complications, such as eating disorders, chronic pain, and obsessive compulsive disorder. However, more than a third of adults taking the medication report episodes of memory loss, and half claim to have trouble concentrating.
To avoid this, it might be useful to talk to your healthcare provider about nondrug therapies. If these are ineffective, venlafaxine (Effexor) are thought by some to have the least adverse effect on memory.
Hypertension Drugs (Beta-blockers)
Examples: atenolol (Tenormin), carvedilol (Coreg), metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol), propranolol (Inderal), sotalol (Betapace), timolol (Timoptic)
Beta-blockers are prescribed to slow heart rate and lower blood pressure. Unfortunately, they can also “block” crucial chemicals like norepinephrine and epinephrine, and cause memory problems. Benzothiazepine calcium channel blockers are often safer and more effective than beta-blockers.
Sleeping Aids (Nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics)
Examples: eszopiclone (Lunesta), zaleplon (Sonata) and zolpidem (Ambien)
These meds may help you sleep, but just like antianxiety drugs, their method of action can restrict the interaction between short-term and long-term memory.
“There are alternative drug and nondrug treatments for insomnia and anxiety, so talk with your health care professional about options. Melatonin, in doses from 3 to 10 mg before bedtime, for instance, sometimes helps to reestablish healthy sleep patterns,” says Dr. Neel. However, “sudden withdrawal can cause serious side effects, so a health professional should always monitor the process.”
Always consult your health care provider before making any adjustments to drug therapies.