A new study revealed that older adults taking a certain class of drugs to counter depression, anxiety and other health problems were more likely to visit emergency rooms and require hospitalization.
The study, published in the journal Pharmacotherapy, showed that taking anticholinergic medications could increase the likelihood of inpatient admission in older adults.
"Anticholinergics, the medications that block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter, have previously been implicated as a potential cause of cognitive impairment, by us and by other researchers," said lead author Noll Campbell, PharmD, an investigator at Indiana University's Center for Aging Research and Regenstrief Institute, in a press release. "This is the first study to calculate cumulative anticholinergic burden and determine that as burden increases, so does healthcare utilization in the U.S. -- both outpatient and inpatient."
For the study, the researchers analyzed actual prescription dispensing data of 3,344 adults from the Regenstrief Medical Record System. All the participants were patients served Eskenazi Health, an academic teaching health care system in Indianapolis. Among them, 58 percent were African-American, 71 percent were female and fewer than 10 percent were cognitively impaired.
The researchers observed that the participants taking a drug with mild anticholinergics effects daily were 11 percent more likely to be admitted in hospitals. On the other hand, participants taking a drug with strong anticholinergics effects daily have 33 percent increased likelihood of inpatient admission.
Mild anticholinergic drugs include drugs used to treat heart failure and hypertension, such as diuretics, while strong anticholinergic drugs include sleeping pills and antihistamine. Other commonly used drugs with anticholinergic properties include those used to treat chronic conditions, including depression, anxiety, pain, allergy, inconsistency and sleep problems.
Some of the anticholinergic drugs can be readily available over-the-counter even without prescriptions. Due to this, the researchers believe that as many as half of older adults used anticholinergic drugs. Additionally, the researchers noted that it is not unusual for an older adult to take two or more of these anticholinergic drug daily.
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