Long-term exposure to anticholinergic and sedative medications and cognitive and physical function in later life

Hans Wouters*, Sarah N. Hilmer, Danijela Gnjidic, Jos P. Van Campen, Martina Teichert, Helene G. Van Der Meer, Laura A. Schaap, Martijn Huisman, Hannie C. Comijs, Petra Denig, Claudine J. Lamoth, Katja Taxis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Anticholinergic and sedative medications are frequently prescribed to older individuals. These medications are associated with short-term cognitive and physical impairment, but less is known about long-term associations. We therefore examined whether over 20 years cumulative exposure to these medications was related to poorer cognitive and physical functioning. Methods: Older adult participants of the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam (LASA) were followed from 1992 to 2012. On seven measurement occasions, cumulative exposure to anticholinergic and sedative medications was quantified with the drug burden index (DBI), a linear additive pharmacological dose–response model. Cognitive functioning was assessed with the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), Alphabet Coding Task (ACT, three trials), Auditory Verbal Learning Test (AVLT, learning and retention condition), and Raven Colored Progressive Matrices (RCPM, two trials). Physical functioning was assessed with the Walking Test (WT), Cardigan Test (CT), Chair Stands Test (CST), Balance Test (BT), and self-reported Functional Independence (FI). Data were analyzed with linear mixed models adjusted for age, education, sex, living with a partner, BMI, depressive symptoms, comorbidities (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, COPD, osteoarthritis, CNS diseases), and prescribed medications. Results: Longitudinal associations were found of the DBI with poorer cognitive functioning (less items correct on the three ACT trials, AVLT learning condition, and the two RCPM trials) and with poorer physical functioning (longer completion time on the CT, CST, and lower self-reported FI). Conclusions: This longitudinal analysis of data collected over 20 years, showed that higher long-term cumulative exposure to anticholinergic and sedative medications was associated with poorer cognitive and physical functioning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-365
Number of pages9
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020

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