Could Your Prescription Pills Be Clouding Your Mind?

Prescription medications are intended to treat specific ailments, but often they come with side effects that can impact other aspects of our health. One such side effect is the impact on memory, particularly for senior citizens who tend to have a higher intake of prescription medications. In fact, it is estimated that up to 90% of people over the age of 65 take at least one prescription medication.

This article will dive into the effect of certain medications on memory and concentration and highlight what you can do to protect your brain health while still managing your health conditions.

The link between medication and memory

Researchers have conducted an international study that analyzed the effects of various prescription medications on memory and concentration. The findings revealed that some medications predominantly used to treat anxiety, insomnia, itching, and allergies significantly impair memory and concentration, especially in older adults.

Consistent with these findings, 18% of people over the age of 65 complain of memory problems. The researchers speculate that brain problems may be directly linked to the use of pharmaceutical medicines.

The impact of benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs commonly prescribed for their anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) and sedative properties. Used to treat anxiety disorders and insomnia, they act on the brain’s neurotransmitters to create a calming effect.

However, this study found that benzodiazepines consistently led to impairments in memory and concentration. Moreover, higher doses of the medication were directly associated with more severe cognitive deficits. This suggests that the use of such medications can negatively affect the brain, especially in older adults who are more susceptible to cognitive decline.

The impact of antihistamines and antidepressants

The study also tested antihistamines, which are often prescribed for allergies and itch relief. The results showed a deficit in attention and information processing when taken for long periods. Tricyclic antidepressants, medications used for clinical depression and other mental disorders, displayed similar effects on cognitive function.

Cara Tannenbaum, research chair at the Institut Universitaire de Gériatrie de Montréal, has drawn attention to the 2012 Revised Beers Criteria published by the American Geriatrics Society. The recommendations strongly advocate against elderly individuals using sleeping pills, first-generation antihistamines, or tricyclic antidepressants if they want to preserve their cognitive functions.

Are there alternatives?

For those concerned with the potential cognitive side effects of these medications, there are alternative options available. If you are taking benzodiazepines for anxiety or insomnia, consider discussing other treatment options with your healthcare provider. These may include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which has been proven effective in treating anxiety and sleep disorders.

Alternatively, you might explore natural sleep aids, such as melatonin supplementation, valerian root, or chamomile tea. However, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional before making any changes to your medication or supplement regimen.

In the case of antihistamines, newer-generation options have fewer cognitive side effects. Talk to your doctor about substituting these for older, first-generation antihistamines.

For those on tricyclic antidepressants, newer medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be a better alternative. These drugs have fewer side effects and tend to be better tolerated by patients.


While prescription medications can play a vital role in managing various health conditions, it’s crucial to be aware of their potential cognitive side effects, particularly for older adults. If you or a loved one are experiencing memory or concentration issues and are taking medications discussed in this article, speak with your healthcare provider about alternative treatment options.

By staying informed and maintaining open communication with your healthcare provider, you can safeguard both your physical and cognitive health while still receiving the support you need for your specific health concerns.