Anticholinergic drugs in late life: adverse effects on cognition but not on progress to dementia

Lawrence J. Whalley, Sumit Sharma, Helen C. Fox, Alison D. Murray, Roger T. Staff, Ashleigh C. Duthie, Ian J. Deary, John M. Starr

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44 Citations (Scopus)


Impaired cognitive function associated with use of anticholinergic drugs may be partly attributed to underlying physical illness and exposure to factors that increase the risk of some physical disorders such as low socioeconomic status (SES) and less education. To estimate the extent of cognitive impairment and risk of progress to dementia associated with anticholinergic drug use and to estimate confounding by gender, APOE, family history of dementia, lower SES, less education, and lower childhood mental ability, we recruited 281 volunteers at age 77-78 without overt dementia who had taken part in the Scottish Mental Survey of 1932. Clinical histories, use of medications, self reported frequency of emotional symptoms and standardized tests of cognitive function were obtained. With and without adjustment for age and childhood IQ, there were significant between-group differences in tests of non-verbal reasoning and spatial ability. During 10 year follow-up, progress to overt dementia was not associated with anticholinergic drugs use on recruitment but female gender and a history of dementia in parent or sibling were associated with dementia. We concluded that anticholinergic drug use in this narrow age range sample was linked to cognitive impairment but not to subsequent dementia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-261
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Alzheimer's Disease
Issue number2
Early online date16 Mar 2012
Publication statusPublished - May 2012


  • cholinergic antagonists
  • humans
  • Alzheimer disease
  • disease progression
  • aged
  • apolipoproteins E
  • longitudinal studies
  • cognition
  • cognition disorders
  • socioeconomic factors
  • Scotland
  • intelligence
  • aged, 80 and over
  • risk factors
  • cohort studies
  • follow-up studies
  • sex distribution
  • male
  • female


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