FYI Daily

Having Memory Issues? Check Your Medicine Cabinet

Last updated:

March 01, 2012

What do Lipitor, Tylenol, Benadryl, and Paxil have in common? They've all been linked to impaired cognitive function in recent studies.

On Tuesday, the FDA issued new safety warnings for Lipitor and other statins because they may cause memory loss and other troubling problems, like diabetes and muscle pain. Statins are used to reduce cholesterol and are prescribed to a huge percentage of middle-aged and older adults to help keep their hearts healthy.

Recent research has also linked anticholinergics (including Tylenol, Benadryl, and Paxil) to memory problems. These drugs block acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, often as a side effect rather than for therapeutic reasons.

So if you don't want to hamper your memory, but you also need to take statins (or Paxil or Benadryl) for your health, what should you do?

Talk to your doctor, and make sure to mention all the drugs you're taking (even over-the-counter medications or drugs prescribed by other doctors).

According to the New York Times' Well blog, the more drugs you take with anticholinergic effects, and the longer you take them, the more likely you are to be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. You can use the Anticholinergic Cognitive Burden Scale to figure out how many of the drugs you're taking have those properties, and then talk to your doctor about switching to safer medications. Even if some of the drugs are absolutely essential, lowering your overall anticholinergic burden can help.

If you're worried about statins, talk to your doctor too. He or she can help you sort out whether the risk of cognitive impairment is high enough to warrant stopping your medication. According to the New York Times, even the FDA debated putting cognitive warning labels on statins, but ultimately decided it was best to let consumers know about any potential problems.