To examine the association between use of medications with anticholinergic properties, cognitive decline and incident dementia in a large community-based sample of subjects aged 65 years and over.
Participants were 4128 women and 2784 men from a population-based cohort recruited from three French cities. Cognitive performance, clinical diagnosis of dementia and anticholinergic use were evaluated at base-line, 2 and 4 year later.
7.5% of subjects reported anticholinergic drug use at base-line. Multivariate adjusted logistic regression indicated that women reporting anticholinergic drugs at base-line showed greater decline over four years in verbal fluency scores (OR=1.41, CI=1.11–1.79) and in global cognitive functioning (OR=1.22, CI=0.96–1.55) than women not using anticholinergic drugs. In men, an association was found with decline in visual memory (OR=1.63, CI=1.08–2.47) and to a lesser extent in executive function (OR=1.47, CI=0.89–2.44). Significant interactions were observed in women between anticholinergic use and age, apolipoprotein E, or hormone replacement therapy. A significantly 1.4–2 fold higher risk of cognitive decline was observed for continuous anticholinergic users but not for those having discontinued. The risk of incident dementia over the four-year followup was also increased in continuous users (HR=1.65, CI=1.00–2.73) but not in those having discontinued anticholinergic drugs (HR=1.28, CI=0.59–2.76).
Elderly people taking anticholinergic drugs were at increased risk for cognitive decline and dementia. Discontinuing anticholinergic treatment was associated with a decreased risk. Physicians should carefully consider prescription of anticholinergic drugs in elderly people especially in the oldest old and persons at high genetic risk of cognitive disorder.