5 Medications That Could Be Making You Forgetful

Medications can cause a wide range of side effects—some unpleasant and others downright dangerous. “One…

Medications can cause a wide range of side effects—some unpleasant and others downright dangerous. “One of the more dangerous side effects which is often overlooked is forgetfulness,” says David Cutler, MD, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “One of the reasons forgetfulness may be overlooked is that forgetfulness from treatment can often not be differentiated from forgetfulness from the underlying disease,” he tells Best Life. For some people, subtle memory loss can grow into a problem that affects their ability to perform everyday cognitive tasks. Read on to learn how five common types of medication could be making you more forgetful, and what you can do about it.

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If you suffer from chronic poor sleep, a sleep aid may help you get a better night’s rest. But experts warn that taking sleep aids for a prolonged period of time can come with serious side effects, including memory loss and other forms of cognitive impairment.

“We know that sleep medication use is pretty common in older adults,” Yue Leng, MD, PhD, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of California San Francisco tells the AARP. “Usually when people have sleep problems, they’re prescribed these medications by default. But few studies have looked into what the medications are really doing to their body and to their brain,” says Leng. Besides short term memory lapses, some sleep aids have even been linked to patients developing dementia later in life.

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Cutler says that whenever possible, insomnia should be treated with cognitive behavior therapy “which can avoid the memory issues of sleeping pills and improve mental acuity as sleep habits improve.”

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Woman Pinching Her Forehead and Taking Antidepressants
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Antidepressants are a class of drugs that correct chemical imbalances in the brain, thereby reducing symptoms of depressive disorders. However, Harvard Health Publishing notes that there are several types of antidepressants which can cause forgetfulness, including paroxetine (Paxil), amitriptyline (Elavil), desipramine (Norpramin), or nortriptyline (Aventyl, Pamelor).

Harvard experts say that if you do experience memory loss associated with this medication, you may be able to work with your doctor to switch to another antidepressant which is less likely to cause this particular side effect. Options less commonly associated with memory loss or forgetfulness include fluoxetine (Prozac) or sertraline (Zoloft), duloxetine (Cymbalta), or venlafaxine (Effexor), they write.

woman holding her pee

Anticholinergics are used to treat urinary incontinence, as well as other conditions such as high blood pressure, asthma, and Parkinson’s disease. But studies have found that many incontinence drugs can cause memory loss and other forms of cognitive decline by blocking acetylcholine, a chemical messenger involved with many bodily functions.

“Our message is to be careful when using these medicines,” Jack Tsao, MD, a U.S. Navy neurologist who led a study on anticholinergics and memory loss, told NBC News. “It may be better to use diapers and be able to think clearly than the other way around.”

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Antihistamine medications such as Benadryl and Claritin are also considered anticholinergics, and are known to make patients drowsy and forgetful, says Cutler.

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Studies have also linked longterm use of these products to an increased risk of dementia. In fact, one study (via Harvard Health Publishing), which tracked roughly 3,500 senior men and women ages 65 over the course of seven years, found that those who used anticholinergics for three years or more were 54 percent more likely to later develop dementia as those who took them for three months or less.

man preparing to take medication after blood pressure measuring
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Having high blood pressure in mid-life is widely believed to increase one’s risk of cognitive decline later in life. “Failure to treat high blood pressure can lead to a stroke, which is a common cause of cognitive decline,” explains Cutler.

However, medical interventions for high blood pressure seem to have a varied effect on memory and forgetfulness in the shorter term. While some types of blood pressure medication are believed to have a protective effect over memory and cognition, others are known to make patients more forgetful.

If you are currently on blood pressure medication, it is important that you do not stop taking it or change your dosage without talking to your doctor, as this can have dangerous side effects. “Stopping medical therapy is not always the best course of action when treating forgetfulness caused by medication. More often, assessing the benefits, risks and options for any medical treatment is the best course of action,” says Cutler.

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you’re taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

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