Antiepileptic drugs increase risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia

The use of antiepileptic drugs is associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, according to a new study from the University of Eastern Finland and the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, DZNE. Continuous use of antiepileptic drugs for a period exceeding one year was associated with a 15 percent increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease in the Finnish dataset, and with a 30 percent increased risk of dementia in the German dataset.

Some antiepileptic drugs are known to impair cognitive function, which refers to all different aspects of information processing. When the researchers compared different antiepileptic drugs, they found that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia was specifically associated with drugs that impair cognitive function. These drugs were associated with a 20 percent increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and with a 60 percent increased risk of dementia.

The researchers also found that the higher the dose of a drug that impairs cognitive function, the higher the risk of dementia. However, other antiepileptic drugs, i.e. those which do not impair cognitive processing, were not associated with the risk.

“More research should be conducted into the long-term cognitive effects of these drugs, especially among older people,” Senior Researcher Heidi Taipale from the University of Eastern Finland says.

Besides for epilepsy, antiepileptic drugs are used in the treatment of neuropathic pain, bipolar disorder and generalised anxiety disorder. This new study is the largest research on the topic so far, and the first to investigate the association in terms of regularity of use, dose and comparing the risk between antiepileptic drugs with and without cognitive-impairing effects. The results were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The association of antiepileptic drug use with Alzheimer’s disease was assessed in Finnish persons diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and their controls without the disease. This study is part of the nationwide register-based MEDALZ study, which includes all 70,718 persons diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in Finland during 2005-2011 and their 282,862 controls. The association of antiepileptic drug use with dementia was investigated in a sample from a large German statutory health insurance provider, Allgemeine Ortskrankenkasse (AOK). The dataset includes 20,325 persons diagnosed with dementia in 2004–2011, and their 81,300 controls.

For further information, please contact:

Heidi Taipale, Senior Researcher, School of Pharmacy, University of Eastern Finland, heidi.taipale(at)uef.fi

Sirpa Hartikainen, Professor, School of Pharmacy, University of Eastern Finland, sirpa.hartikainen(at)uef.fi

Research article:

Taipale H, Gomm W, Broich K, Maier W, Tolppanen AM, Tanskanen A, Tiihonen J, Hartikainen S, Haenisch B. Use of antiepileptic drugs and dementia risk-an analysis of Finnish health register and German health insurance data. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, published online March 22, 2018. 10.1111/jgs.15358

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The University of Eastern Finland, UEF, is one of the largest universities in Finland. The activities of the UEF underscore multidisciplinarity, and the university is especially strong in research related to forests and the environment, health and well-being, and new technologies and materials. The UEF offers teaching in more than 100 major subjects. In addition to the high standard of teaching, the university offers its students a modern study environment, which is under constant development. The university comprises four faculties: the Philosophical Faculty, the Faculty of Science and Forestry, the Faculty of Health Sciences, and the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies. The university’s campuses are located in the heart of beautiful eastern Finland in Joensuu, Kuopio and Savonlinna. The UEF is home to approximately 15 000 students and nearly 2 800 members of staff.

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