Alzheimer’s disease (AD) robs people of their long-term memory, causes people to become confused even among familiar surroundings and inhibits their ability to even recognize their loved ones. It is a progressive disease and the only one among the top ten causes of death in the U.S. that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are currently 5.3 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). By 2025, the number of patients over 65 is expected to rise to 7.1 million, a 40 percent increase. Studies have suggested that the increasing prevalence of AD may in some part be affected by drug abuse.
Link between drug use and Alzheimer’s
In 2010,a scientific report estimated that 5.6to 8 million older Americans had a substance abuse or mental health disorder. The most commonly abused substances were alcohol, opiates, cocaine and marijuana. Most elderly peopletoday are Baby Boomers who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s when experimentation with drugs was at an all-time high.
Older people are less able to metabolize drugs and alcohol and have increased brain sensitivity to them, combined with cognitive degeneration due to age, patients are less likely to be aware of their condition or mention it to their doctor.
While alcohol-related dementia is a commonly known affliction, other drugs can also cause severe damage to the brain. The Neuropathology and Applied Neurobiologyjournal states that young drug abusers are three times more likely to suffer brain damage than nonusers.
Scientists at the University of Edinburgh studied the post-mortem brains of 34 intravenous drug abusers of heroin and methadone in comparison to 16 nonusers and found brain damage in the users normally only found in much older people. The damaged areas were found in parts of the brain associated with learning, memory and emotional well-being and were similar to the damage found in the early stages of AD.
Ronald Devere, M.D., a board-certified neurologist and fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, says that although drug and alcohol abuse doesn’t necessarily cause AD, it can damage brain cells in ways that leave alcoholics and addicts more susceptible to the ravages of the debilitating disease.
Could diazepines play a part?
According to Harvard Health Publications benzodiazepines such as Valium or Xanax prescribed for anxiety or insomnia may increase the risk of AD. The British Medical Journal published a study suggesting that the use of benzodiazepines may promote the development of dementia.The study contrasted 2,000 men and women over age 66 affected by AD against 7,000 others without AD who matched the age and sex of the first group. Drug prescriptions during the prior five to six years were scrutinized.
Those using a benzodiazepine for three months or less had about the same risk as nonusers. Use of the drug for three to six months raised the AD risk by 32 percent and use for more than six months increased the risk of AD by 84 percent.
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Written by Veronica McNamara, Sovereign Health Group writer
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