According to the findings published in the British Medical Journal, benzodiazepine, a medicine widely used by people over-65s to
combat anxiety and sleeplessness, increases the risk of dementia by 50 per cent within 15 years.

Over a period of 20 years the research studied 1,063 men and women, with an average age of 78, who had never taken the drug before and were all free from dementia. The chance of dementia developing in those who took benzodiazepines was 4.8 per 100 people in a year as compared with 3.2 for those who had not taken the drugs.

Uncontrolled chronic use of benzodiazepines in elderly people should be cautioned against, the study concluded.

“Benzodiazepines remain useful for the treatment of acute anxiety states and transient insomnia. Our data add to the accumulating evidence that use of benzodiazepines is associated with increased risk of dementia, which, given the high and often chronic consumption of these drugs in many countries would constitute a substantial public health concern,” said lead author Sophie Billioti de Gage, a PhD student at Bordeaux University.

“Therefore, physicians should carefully assess the expected benefits of the use of benzodiazepines in the light of these adverse effects and, whenever possible, limit prescription to a few weeks as recommended by the good practice guidelines,” she added.

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