Anticholinergics, a commonly prescribed group of drugs, may cause elderly people to “slow down” in their daily physical activities.

Two reports from Wake Forest University School of Medicine support findings that anticholinergic drugs used to treat acid reflux, Parkinsons disease and urinary incontinence may cause older people to lose their thinking skills more quickly than those who do not take the medicines.

Anticholinergic drugs work by stopping acetylcholine, a chemical that enhances communication between nerve cells in the brain, from binding to its receptors in nerve cells.

Older adults taking anticholinergics become more likely to walk more slowly and to need help in other daily activities. These results are true even in older adults who have normal memory and thinking abilities.

For older adults taking a moderately anticholinergic medication, or two or more mildly anticholinergic medications, their function is similar to that of someone three to four years older.

Common anticholinergic medicines include nifedipine (antihypertensive), ranitidine (reduces stomach acid) and tolterodine (medication for incontinence).

Cholinesterase inhibitors, a family of drugs used to treat dementia by increasing levels of acetylcholine include donepezil, galantamine, rivastigmine and tacrine. About 10 percent of patients may be taking tolterodine and dozepezil together. The two drugs are pharmacological opposites, which led to the hypothesis that the simultaneous treatment of dementia and incontinence could lead to reduced effectiveness of one or both drugs.

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