Long-term use of common anxiety drugs can increase risk of Alzheimer's disease, a new study has found.

Benzodiazepines are often prescribed to people suffering from anxiety and sleeping problems. The latest study by researchers from France and Canada found that long-term users of the drug have increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Lorazepam (Ativan), diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax) are all commonly used benzodiazepines, Healthday reported. The American Geriatrics Society (AGS) has put benzodiazepines on its list of "potentially inappropriate"  for seniors as the drug is known to increase risks of several problems such as confusion, dizziness and falls.

Data for the study came from Quebec health insurance program database (RAMQ). The team identified 1,796 cases of Alzheimer's disease during the six-year study period and compared the data with 7,184 healthy controls.

The researchers found that people who used benzodiazepines for three months or more had up to 51 percent higher risk of developing dementia than other people. Long-acting benzodiazepines increased risk of Alzheimer's disease more than short-acting drugs.

"This study shows an apparent link between the use of benzodiazepines and Alzheimer's disease although it's hard to know the underlying reason behind the link," Dr Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, told BBC.

"One limitation of this study is that benzodiazepines treat symptoms such as anxiety and sleep disturbance, which may also be early indicators of Alzheimer's disease," Karran added, according to BBC.

According to National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer's disease is an irreversiblea nd progressive brain disease that destroys memory and thinking skills. In most people with Alzheimer's, symptoms first appear after the age of 60 years. The number of people living with dementia is increasing and is expected to touch 115 million by 2015.

The study is published in the British Medical Journal.