A popular anti-anxiety drug has been linked with an increased risk of dementia in pensioners, according to new research.
Patients over the age of 65 who start taking benzodiazepines, also known as 'benzos', have a 50pc increased chance of developing dementia within 15 years compared with people who had never used the drug, according to the study.
Researchers from the University of Bordeaux, France, warned that "indiscriminate widespread use" of the drugs, which are also used to treat insomnia, should be cautioned against.
The research, which is published on bmj.com, examined 1,063 people with an average age of 78, over two decades. They had never taken the drug before and were all free from dementia.
They found that 95 patients started taking benzodiazepines during the study. After a 15-year follow-up, 253 people developed dementia. Of these, 30 had begun to take the drugs between three and five years into the study.
"In this large population-based study, new use of benzodiazepines was associated with a significant -- approximately a 50pc increase -- in the risk of dementia," the authors wrote.
Alzheimer's Society director of research Professor Clive Ballard added: "It emphasises how important it is that we properly monitor how treatments for anxiety or sleep problems are used."