Taking benzodiazepines (pills used for anxiety and insomnia) is not associated with an increased risk of dementia, says new study

People who take pills for anxiety and sleep problems do not have an increased dementia risk, although healthcare providers should still avoid giving them to older adults.

That’s what a new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) by researchers from the University of Washington and Group Health Seattle claims.

Benzodiazepines are often prescribed to help manage sleep, anxiety and depressive disorders, but some studies have also suggested that they could be associated with an increased risk of dementia.

However, this new research, which followed 3,434 people aged over 65 for seven years, did not find a causal link. They carried out cognitive screening at the beginning of the study, and then took into account factors such as smoking, exercise and self-related health.

In the follow-up to the study, around 25% of people developed dementia, but the researchers found no association between the highest level of benzodiazepine use and dementia or cognitive decline.

‘Overall, our results do not support a causal association between benzodiazepine use and dementia,’ says the team, led by Professor Shelly Gray from the University of Washington. ‘Nonetheless, given the mixed evidence regarding benzodiazepines and risk of dementia and that these drugs are associated with many adverse events, healthcare providers are still advised to avoid benzodiazepines in older adults to prevent important adverse health outcomes, withdrawal and dependence.’