Benzodiazepines and Dementia: Is There A Link Between Them?

Last Updated: April 7, 2020

Authored by Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Till sometime earlier, the use of Benzodiazepines and dementia risk were strongly associated. However, new studies suggest a contradictory result. This has certainly raised the issues regarding the safety of these CNS depressants. It is especially worry-some in older patients.

Benzodiazepines Use In Seniors

Benzodiazepines or simply Benzos are a class of depressant medications. People use them to treat various medical conditions. For example, anxiety, panic attacks, seizures, insomnia and abnormal muscle contractions. In addition, the doctor may use it before a major surgery to relax the muscles.
Diazpam, Nitrazepam, Clonazepam, and Clobazam are some commonly used Benzodiazepines.
They alter the activity of certain brain chemicals. Notably, a brain chemical which they call Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABA). As a result, they have a calming effect on the stressed mind, muscles and other body functions.

Approximately 8.7% adults aged 65-80 years used a prescription Benzo in 2008. This is almost four times of the number of younger individuals. (18-35 years) These are people who received similar prescriptions in the same year. This is according to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2014.
Therefore, the concern for dementia in older patients is essentially reasonable. This is considering the fact that a major part of dementia patients are old individuals.

Dementia Definition

Blue pillsDementia is a broad term that refers to a gradual loss of mental activity. It affects how a person thinks, behaves and performs daily activities. Forgetfulness is one of the main symptoms seen in these patients. In addition, they may also have some problems with language.
The known causes are Alzheimer’s disease, injury to the brain, HIV, and stroke. It is not curable. However, medications may slow down the disease progress and reduce the symptoms.

Benzodiazepines And Dementia Connections

The association between the use of Benzodiazepines and dementia is quite interesting. In fact, they have been discussing this for a long time in the scientific community. And the results are somewhat contradictory to each other.
The major study findings are:

  • “Benzodiazepine use and risk of incident dementia or cognitive decline: prospective population based study”. The study is in BMJ from 2016. This study found individuals 65 years or above who used a benzo. They have been using it for around a decade. They had a higher risk of dementia. However, they found the risk to be minimal. But again, this result does not verify the claim.Dementia as a side effect of Benzodiazepines long-term use remains unconnected. Even so, the researchers suggest a cautionary use in old individuals. That way, they might be able to reduce or take away the risk of an addiction and withdrawal.
  • Association between Benzodiazepine Use and Dementia: Data Mining of Different Medical Databases.” One can find this in International Journal of Medical Sciences, 2016.  This study suggests a strong link between long-term use of benzodiazepines and dementia. In addition, the risk becomes higher when a patient uses long-acting benzodiazepines. For example, Chlordiazepoxide, Clobazam, Clonazepam, and Diazepam.
  • Benzodiazepine Use and Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease or Vascular Dementia: A Case–Control Analysis”. It is from Drug Safety in 2015. This study clearly rejects the theory that benzodiazepines could cause dementia.

Risks For The Patients?

There may be a link. However, they have not been able to show a “cause and effect” relation between these two. This is according to his studies conducted till date.

Also, the risk of fall, accidents, and confusion is higher in this population. This is when they use a benzo.
Therefore, as of now, there is no strong evidence that shows benzos as a cause of dementia. One can expect to see a clearer picture in the future.

Prevention Measures

All things considered, patients should not discontinue it without first consulting a doctor. The benefits of using it are higher than the risks. Also, there are risks of stopping the medications and resultant complications. As a result, it clearly outweighs the risk of dementia.
In a nutshell, continue taking these medications and follow a doctor’s instruction.

It is critcal to talk an addiction counselor at benzodiazepine rehab facility. They can teach ways to deal with the cravings, prevent relapses. Finally, the addict will be on their way to a full recovery.


Page Sources

  1. Rochon P. A., Vozoris N., Gill S. S. The harms of benzodiazepines for patients with dementia. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2017; 189(14):E517–E518. doi:10.1503/cmaj.170193. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5386844/.
  2. He Q., Chen X., Wu T., Li L., Fei X. Risk of Dementia in Long-Term Benzodiazepine Users: Evidence from a Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery. 2019; 15(1):9–19. doi:10.3988/jcn.2019.15.1.9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6325366/.
  3. Gray S. L., Walker R., Crane P. K. Benzodiazepine use and risk of incident dementia or cognitive decline: prospective population based study. The BMJ. 2016; 352:i90. doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i90. https://www.bmj.com/content/352/bmj.i90.
  4. Merz B. Benzodiazepine use may raise risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Harvard Health Publishing. 2016. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/benzodiazepine-use-may-raise-risk-alzheimers-disease-201409107397.

Published on: April 3rd, 2017

Updated on: April 7th, 2020

About Author

Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

After successful graduation from Boston University, MA, Sharon gained a Master’s degree in Public Health. Since then, Sharon devoted herself entirely to the medical niche. Sharon Levy is also a certified addiction recovery coach.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.

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