Anxiety drug may increase risk of dementia

Ella Pickover

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 drug is widely used in many countries. In France ,30pc of people over the age of 65 take benzodiazepines. Many administer the drug for long periods despite guidelines suggesting it should only be used for a few weeks.


The research examined 1,063 people with an average age of 78 over two decades. The chance of dementia occurring in those who had taken the drugs was 4.8 per 100 "person years" -- a statistical measure representing one person at risk of development of a disease during a period of one year. Of those who had not taken the drugs the likelihood was measured to be 3.2 per 100 person years.

Alzheimer's expert Professor Clive Ballard said: "This is the not the first time it has been suggested that these drugs could have a negative impact on cognition.

"It emphasises how important it is that we properly monitor how treatments for anxiety or sleep problems are used."