Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health condition that is estimated to affect around 7.8 percent of the U.S. population at some point in their lives. Although there are a number of medications used to treat this condition, a new study has suggested that certain prescriptions for PTSD may raise the risk for dementia later in life.

The study, now published online in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society has found evidence to suggest that certain medications used to treat PTSD, such as antidepressants, tranquilizers, sedatives, or antipsychotic medications significantly increased an individual’s risk for developing dementia, compared to the risks for individuals who didn't take these medications. The medications included: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), novel depressants, and atypical antipsychotics.

While the reason for this dementia risk in certain PTSD medications is not yet clear, the team believes it may have something to do with an interaction among the drugs.

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For the study, researchers funded by the American Geriatrics Society, looked at health information from 3,139,780 veterans aged 56 and older. Nearly all the veterans involved were identified as being white males. The study ran over the course of 9 years, with the researchers looking at both the veteran’s PTSD diagnosis and medication regime. By the end of the study, a total of 5.4 percent of the veterans involved in the study were diagnosed with PTSD.

Results revealed that this increased risk for dementia remained in veterans taking these medications, regardless of whether or not they were diagnosed with PTSD. This suggests that the medication, not the illness, is the root cause for this heightened dementia risk. In addition, veterans who used novel antidepressants, SSRIs, and benzodiazepines were more likely to be diagnosed with dementia, regardless of their PTSD status.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD is a mental health problem that can arise after individuals experience a life threatening event, such as combat, or natural disaster. The condition can also arise from sexual assault. In addition, experiencing a traumatic event, the site reports that having a very intense or long-lasting traumatic event or getting injured during the event can make it more likely that a person will develop PTSD.

PTSD is commonly treated with antidepressants, but according to the USDVA, cognitive processing therapy have the most evidence for treating PTSD. This treatment involves different approaches, such as talk therapy.

In a recent statement, the team explained that further research is required in order to learn more about a possible risk of dementia with PTSD and psychoactive drugs.

Source: Mawanda F, Wallace RB, McCody M, Abrams TE. PTSD, Psychotropic Medication Use, and the Risk of Dementia Among US Veterans: A Retrospective Cohort Study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2017

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