Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?
Answer: The risk of Alzheimer’s disease was found increased by 43-51% in persons (>65) having initiated a treatment with benzodiazepines in the past (>5 years before). Risk increased with the length of exposure and when long acting benzodiazepines were used.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Answer: Benzodiazepines remain valuable tools for managing anxiety and insomnia. We did not found any increase in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in individuals using benzodiazepines in accordance with international guidelines (short duration, not exceeding one month for hypnotics and three months for anxiolytics).
For people needing or using benzodiazepines, it seems crucial to encourage physicians to carefully balance the benefits and risks when renewing the treatment. Abrupt discontinuation of long-term treatments with benzodiazepines should be avoided because of the risk of withdrawal effects.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Answer: Experimental animal or cellular models are needed to help in identifying a possible biological mechanism linking benzodiazepines with risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Studies based on a long follow-up—that is, at least 20-30 years—would make it possible to evaluate the risk of long term use of benzodiazepines in younger adults and to better assess the exact role of anxiety, sleep disorders, and depression as putative early risk factors of future dementia.
Risk of Alzheimer’s disease in benzodiazepine users: a case-control study
BMJ 2014; 349 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g5205 (Published 09 September 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g5205