Home > Health and the Brain > How Medications Affect Brain Skills

How Medications Affect Brain Skills

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 29 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Medications Brain Skills Cognitive

Virtually all of us will have to take a medication at some point during our lifetime. Some of us may need a brief course of drug therapy while others have prolonged conditions that require regular, long-term medication dosing.

The reality is that we rely on medications to treat an enormous range of health conditions. But it is also important to be aware of how your medications may be affecting your brain skills.

Impaired Brain Skills

Unfortunately, side-effects are a reality for medications today. In some instances, a side-effect can be impaired brain skills. While it is rarely a reason to stop taking the drug when the condition warrants it, you should know if your medication affects cognitive skills. On top of that, you should consider other ways to strengthen brain skills to help buffer these medication effects.

Long-term Cognitive Impairment

One study in the United States recently looked at a specific group of people and how their cognitive functioning was impaired from drugs taken for common medical conditions. Researchers recruited older African-Americans who were taking drugs for conditions such as insomnia, allergies or incontinence. They wanted to investigate how these drugs affected the brain.

Looking at Cognitive Impairment from Anticholinergics

Anticholinergics are drugs that block acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in your nervous system. They include common drugs sold over-the-counter such as those used for pain relief and viruses such as the common cold or even for allergy relief.

Others are available only via prescription. Older adults tend to use these kinds of drugs as sleep aids or to reduce symptoms relating to bladder leakage.

From Normal Cognition to Impaired Mental Functioning

In this six-year study, participants started out with normal cognitive function. All medications taken were tracked over the six years. Results showed that by taking one anticholinergic drug, a person had a significantly higher risk of developing mildly impaired cognition.

Where two of these drugs were taken, the risk was doubled. This means that where the drug is taken simply to get a better night’s rest or for motion sickness, a person can suffer from cognitive impairment in addition to the therapeutic benefits.

Reversing the Damage

In a person who may already have cognitive impairment, this would likely then worsen the level of impairment. Overall, it translated to memory loss without functional disability such as Alzheimer’s disease, which leaves researchers hopeful that the ‘damage’ is reversible.

Taking it a Step Further

Researchers believe that even though this particular study focused on older African-Americans, the results in future studies will show similar effects to all of the population. Follow-up studies will take a more diverse population sample as well as look to see if the damage can be minimised or reversed.

Protecting Your Brain

With medications being such a mainstay in our society, it is important that we investigate the effects on our brain skills. If you are concerned that your drug therapy is ‘clouding’ your brain, talk to your doctor about the effects. As researchers learn more about how medications affect brain skills, you can do your part by being aware of how you respond to drugs and taking action to improve your cognitive functioning.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopefully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • Aawwmmm
    Re: Savant Syndrome
    That's so cool I would be more impressed if you told me you spoke with other individuals while you were sleeping or even comprehend that there are…
    20 August 2017
  • Alex2017
    Re: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
    Hi, for many years now I am suffering severe ocd. I cannot drive car anymore, and also I get some new symptoms. Things I struggle…
    24 April 2017
  • Alex
    Re: How Does Language Acquisition Happen?
    This is a very one-sided article and only takes a nativist view into account, can be misleading for someone who has no…
    21 January 2017
  • Soulless
    Re: Savant Syndrome
    I've been able to dream the future since I was a child. Others have always told me it's just deja vu or they'll congratulate me on having a grand…
    23 August 2016
  • bj17
    Re: Literacy and Your Brain
    Does anyone have the source for more information on the changes in the brain as guerrillas learn to read?
    11 February 2016
  • pampam
    Re: How to Get Great Exam Results Using Exam Technique
    pls can some one tell me the clues to pass my exam and be the first am tired of 7th position
    29 January 2016
  • Abraham
    Re: Is Intelligence Inherited
    Peter, your comment is a sign of being not intelligent. Otherwise by that logic we'd all have black skin...Two words, GENETIC…
    3 December 2015
  • freckles
    Re: How Long Do Young Children Take to Process Information?
    I had brain trauma as a child from the age of ten yrs oldafter falling from a swing park shute…
    29 November 2015
  • BrainSkills
    Re: How to Develop Empathy Skills
    Andrea - Your Question:Hello, my partner doesn't understand what empathy means, and he doesn't know how to explain his feelings…
    27 November 2015
  • Andrea
    Re: How to Develop Empathy Skills
    Hello, my partner doesn't understand what empathy means, and he doesn't know how to explain his feelings either. I've tried to…
    25 November 2015
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the BrainSkills website. Please read our Disclaimer.