Commonly used sleeping tablets including Valium are reported to be linked to an increased risk of dementia, according to a recently published study Harvard Medical School. Seniors taking these pills – called benzodiazapines – may be running a 50% greater chance of succumbing to this scourge of aging. This group of medicines includes temazepam and diazepam (Valium) which are widely prescribed for anxiety and sleeping difficulties which result from this condition. In the UK 10 million prescriptions a year are issued for these medications and among the over 65s, up 8% or so have used within the past year.
These medication work by interfering with chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters and there has long been concern that there is a potential that they were harmful. The risk of addiction when taking benzodiazapines has long been documented and for this reason doctors in the UK have reduced the number of prescriptions issued over the past 20 years. Earlier studies have indicated that they increase the risk of early death too with those taking 4 to 18 pills a year 3.6 times more likely to die prematurely.
There are 800,000 people in the UK with dementia and the cost of treating this condition is estimate by the NHS to be £35 billion.