(HealthDay News) — Use of anticholinergic drugs may be tied to a future diagnosis of dementia, according to a study published online in The BMJ.

Kathryn Richardson, PhD, from University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, and colleagues estimated the association between the duration and level of exposure to different classes of anticholinergic drugs and subsequent incident dementia in 40,770 patients (aged 65 to 99 years) diagnosed with dementia between April 2006 and July 2015, and 283,933 controls without dementia.

The researchers found that 35% of cases and 30% of controls were prescribed at least one anticholinergic drug during the study period. For any anticholinergic drug with an Anticholinergic Cognitive Burden (ACB) score of 3, the adjusted odds ratio for dementia was 1.11. Increasing average ACB score increased the risk of dementia. Gastrointestinal drugs with an ACB score of 3 were not linked to dementia, but the risk of dementia increased with greater exposure for antidepressant, urological, and anti-Parkinson’s drugs with an ACB score of 3. Even for exposure 15 to 20 years before a diagnosis, the results persisted.

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“A robust association between some classes of anticholinergic drugs and future dementia incidence was observed,” the authors write. “Future research should examine anticholinergic drug classes as opposed to anticholinergic effects intrinsically or summing scales for anticholinergic exposure.”

Several authors disclosed financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

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Richardson K, Fox C, Maidment I, et al. Anticholinergic drugs and risk of dementia: case-control study. BMJ 2018;361 DOI:10.1136/bmj.k1315 (Published online April 25, 2018)

Gray SL and Hanlon JT. Anticholinergic drugs and dementia in older adults. BMJ 2018;361. DOI:10.1136/bmj.k1722 (Published online April 25,2018)