Do Sleep Aids Cause Dementia?

There is some very compelling evidence that people that use anticholinergics are at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The drugs in this class are sleep aids that block the action of the neurotransmission of acetylcholine to the brain and body.

This link has been established with non prescription sleep aids and even Benadryl as well as prescription sleep aids. It is highly recommended by the researchers that older adults, based on the evidence collected, should be very wary of any sleep aids even the over the counter types.

Older adults are encouraged to not stop any therapies but to discuss the therapies with their primary care physician. Their health care provider should be made aware of any other over the counter medications that they are taking.

The Study

The study tracked over 3500 elderly patients. The participants in the study were age 65 or older at the start of the study and displayed no signs of dementia at the onset of the study. Over the course of the study just about 800 participants developed dementia.

Age played a large role in the link between sleep aids and dementia but it was not the only variable involved. The participants that were taking sleep aids for more than 3 consecutive years at higher doses seemed to display more cases of dementia than those that took sleep aids as needed.

Benadryl taken at 50mg per day had the same effect on patients as the sleep aids did when taken for 3 or more years. The patients in the group were followed for 7 years. Many of the patients have agreed to donate their brain to science after their death so more in depth studies can be done.


While researchers stand by their findings they do not suggest that anyone stops taking sleep aids however they do make recommendations for other types of sleep aids that may reduce the risk of the dementia.

Working closely with a health care provider and discussing these findings can help to find a solution that will reduce risk. Researchers recommend second generation antihistamine like Claritin to replace Benadryl.

This may be surprising information but it is not new news. The link between sleep aids that act as anticholorgenics has been well established. This study has just beefed up the evidence by using a large sampling and following the cases for a full 7 years.


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