nurse giving pills to male senior patientWe take prescribed medications to address symptoms and make us feel better. Yet for older adults, how the body processes these substances can lead to a host of side effects. Among them is “medication fog”, a condition that mimics or worsens the signs of dementia.

Some people sense this change after starting a new pill. You may feel like you’re in slow motion, forget important details or get easily confused.

For those with Alzheimer’s disease, medical professionals may miss or attribute these signs to cognitive decline. Learn more about this condition for older adults.

How Medication Fog Occurs

With age, your kidneys do not process and filter substances like they used to. Rather than pass through your system, medications start to build up, circulate through your blood stream and remain in your body for longer. As a result of declining muscle mass, your body stores these substances in its fat deposits.

At the same time, older adults are more susceptible to cognitive changes that may be dismissed as signs of age-related memory loss or the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

In turn, older adults have higher risks for medication-related cognitive effects that mirror or heighten the symptoms of dementia. These effects may not be reversible, contributing to early-stage cognitive decline or progressing Alzheimer’s disease.

Medications with the Highest Risks

The list of drugs associated with medication fog continues to grow. Some of the more concerning medications include:

  • Anticholinergic Drugs: This class of drugs halts the progression of acetylcholine, a substance responsible for learning memory in the brain. Antihistamines, sleeping pills, high blood pressure medications, Parkinson’s drugs and medications for an overactive bladder are included in this group.
  • Benzodiazepines: This drug is designed to enhance the effects of neurotransmitters, which are the body’s chemical messengers. It is also prescribed for anxiety and sleep issues.
  • Chemotherapy Drugs: “Chemo brain” appears similar to dementia. However, symptoms may stop once the patient finishes their treatment.
  • Corticosteroids: Older adults taking this class of drugs have higher risks for mood swings, psychotic episodes and confusion or delirium.
  • Pain Medications: Some prescription pain medications, particularly opioids, put older adults at elevated risks for short-term memory loss while taking them.
  • Statins: Individuals who are prescribed these drugs to lower cholesterol may notice slower reflexes, mental processing and difficulty retaining information.

Signs of Medication Fog

Patients taking a drug that induces dementia-like symptoms or other cognitive changes may experience a combination of the following side effects:

  • Feeling sleepy or fatigued often
  • Confusion
  • Delirium
  • Brain fog
  • Forgetting information and one’s whereabouts
  • Memory lapses
  • Gait and balance changes
  • An increase in car accidents or falls
  • Sudden fractures

What You Can Do

To avoid risks for medication fog:

  • Keep a list of all medications that you or a loved one take, including their dosages. Be sure to include any over-the-counter medications and substances, and bring this list every time your doctor recommends starting a new medication.
  • Make sure you take all medications as prescribed.
  • Before you start a new medication, research the side effects and interactions.
  • Know the ingredients of your medications.
  • Never assume an over-the-counter medication won’t produce an interaction.

If you believe your loved one is having a negative reaction to a medication, bring it to the attention of the medical team at West Hartford Health & Rehabilitation Center. To learn more, contact us today.