Medications That Can Cause Memory Loss

In an article published by AARP in 2013, Dr. Armon B. Neel, Jr., author of Are Your Prescriptions Killing You, (\) wrote about ten types of medications that may result in memory loss in older adults. He stated that, though memory loss in older years usually results from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, memory difficulties are also associated with alcohol and drug abuse, head injuries, excessive cigarette smoking, sleep deprivation, chronic stress, stroke, and vitamin B deficiency.

Certain medications can also contribute to memory difficulties. Some of these are:

  • Antianxiety drugs (benzodiazepines), which have a sedative effect, dampen activity in key areas of the brain, including those involved in transferring events from short-term to long-term memory. It takes older adults a longer time than younger adults to flush these out of their bodies, resulting in a buildup that could increase risk of delirium, falls, and motor vehicle accidents.
  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins) which lower blood levels of cholesterol may impair memory and other cognitive processes because they also deplete brain levels of cholesterol. These lipids are vital to the formation of connections between neurons (brain cells).
  • Antiseizure drugs (also used to treat bipolar disorder) often work to limit seizures by dampening the flow of signals within the central nervous system (CNS), which can lead to memory loss.
  • Antidepressant drugs (tricyclic antidepressants, or TCAs) are thought to cause memory problems by blocking the action of serotonin and norepinephrine, two of the brain’s key chemical messengers.
  • Narcotic painkillers (opioid analgesics) stem the flow of pain signals within the CNS and blunt one’s emotional reaction to pain. The chemical messengers that cause this action are also involved in cognition, so use of these drugs can interfere with memory, especially if used for long periods of time.
  • Parkinson’s drugs (dopamine agonists) activate signaling pathways for dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in many brain functions including learning and memory. As a result, side effects of these drugs can include memory loss.
  • Hypertension drugs (beta-blockers) slow heart rate and lower blood pressure, and are believed to cause memory loss by interfering with, or blocking, the action of key chemical messengers in the brain.
  • Sleeping aids (nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics) are used to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders and anxiety. They produce similar side effects to benzodiazepines and can also cause amnesia.
  • Incontinence drugs (anticholinergics) block the action of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter than mediates numerous functions in the body, and which in the brain inhibits activity in the memory and learning centers. The risk for memory loss is increased when these drugs are taken for a long time or with other anticholinergic drugs. In a 2006 study, the effect of one of these medications on memory was found to be comparable to 10 years of cognitive aging.
  • Antihistamines (first-generation) are used to relieve of precent allergy symptoms or those of the common cold. Since they inhibit the action of acetylcholine, they can lead to memory loss.