The short-term effects of benzodiazepines on memory are well established and are suspected in the long term. Eleven studies have been published so far concerning benzodiazepine use and the risk of dementia disorders; nine of these studies concluded these drugs have a deleterious effect, one found a protective effect, and one (the most recently published) observed no effect. The positive association found in some studies could be due to a reverse causation bias since the main indications for benzodiazepines (e.g. sleep disorders, anxiety) can also be prodromes of dementia disorders. This bias is less likely for treatments started more than 10 years before the diagnosis. Among others, three mechanisms could underlie the potential influence of benzodiazepines on the development of dementia disorders. First, benzodiazepines can decrease beta-site amyloid precursor protein-cleaving enzyme 1 (BACE-1) and γ-secretase activity and slow down the accumulation of Aβ oligomers in the brain. This potential positive effect has never been confirmed; the same is true for the prevention of excitotoxicity through benzodiazepine anti-glutamatergic action. Second, since astrocytes located in the area of amyloid plaques could have gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-secreting activity, patients with pre-dementia lesions could be at increased risk of presenting with more pronounced deleterious cognitive effects of benzodiazepines. Finally, owing to the neural compensation and cognitive reserve concepts, some subjects could cope with initial lesions by using/developing alternative networks. By lowering the brain activation level, benzodiazepines could limit this capacity. In conclusion, it is essential that animal studies explore the mechanistic hypotheses of this association found by most of the pharmacoepidemiological studies conducted on this topic.
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The authors have received no public or private funding for this manuscript.
Conflict of interest
Antoine Pariente, Sophie Billioti de Gage, Nicholas Moore and Bernard Bégaud declare no conflicts of interest implying collaboration with private companies relevant to the subject discussed.
All authors have contributed in the past years to publically funded pharmacoepidemiological studies that found an association between use of benzodiazepines and an increased risk of developing dementia disorders in the elderly.
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Pariente, A., de Gage, S.B., Moore, N. et al. The Benzodiazepine–Dementia Disorders Link: Current State of Knowledge. CNS Drugs 30, 1–7 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40263-015-0305-4
- Sleep Disorder
- Reverse Causation
- Cognitive Reserve
- Clinical Practice Research Datalink