Study Links Some Antidepressants to Cognitive Decline in Older Women

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The findings:Two classes of antidepressants are associated with cognitive decline in older women.

A study of 1,234 women in their 80s suggests that two classes of drugs prescribed to treat depression might impair older women’s cognitive health, affecting such functions as memory, concentration, and clear thinking. Over a five-year period, researchers observed the cognitive abilities of women who did not use antidepressants and women who used them (11 percent of the participants), including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), trazodone, and tricyclics. The women who used SSRIs were two times more likely and trazodone three times more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment or dementia compared with nonusers. Women who took tricyclics or other classes of antidepressants had little to no cognitive decline. The findings were published online last year in Journals of Gerontology: Medical Science.

What else you should know: The study didn’t consider the dosage or duration of the antidepressants the women were taking-nor did it investigate whether stopping an antidepressant reverses cognitive decline. The number of participants who used antidepressants was small, so larger studies are needed to confirm the association. Past studies have had conflicting results on the relationship between the two. This latest study, however, could prove only an association, not a direct cause.

What you should do: If you’re concerned about the effects a drug may be having on you, tell your doctor, who can check your cognitive function. Never stop taking antidepressants without your doctor’s knowledge. But note that having symptoms of depression-as well as other factors such as sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and hearing loss-are also associated with poorer mental function. Blaming your antidepressant for things like forgetfulness may be premature.