Forgetful? Blame Your Cold and Allergy Medicine

Research shows that a cocktail of popular meds can affect our cognitive function.

Research shows that taking a cocktail of common medications, such as allergy and cold medicine, can lead to foggy memory and cognitive decline. Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.

Plenty of us rely on our allergy medicine to get us through the pollen-filled fall and spring. But new research suggests we should be a little wary of the meds’ side effects, especially in terms of our memory and concentration.

Researchers at the Montreal Geriatric University Institute and University of Montreal analyzed results from 162 experiments on prescription medications, including anxiety and insomnia medications and antihistamines. The results were pretty surprising, but not entirely new.

The team found that medicines used to treat anxiety and insomnia consistently lead to memory and concentration impairments. Antihistamines had a troubling effect on attention and information processing. There were clear dose-response relationships among both types of medicine.

The results are particularly alarming for people over the age of 65, as 90 percent of them take at least one prescription medication. About 18 percent of people in this age group also complain of memory problems.

In fact, the New York Times reported in February about a previous study involving 4,000 adults in Indianapolis, which found that those who had consistently taken three or more anticholinergic drugs for 90 days or longer were almost three times as likely to have mild cognitive impairments compared with those who had not taken any medications. Even more unsettling: Another study discovered that those who took more than one drug were 68 percent more likely to die during the course of the study. 

Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, who led the research, stresses the importance of letting patients, especially older ones, know the potential side effects of certain medications. Patients should always inform their physicians of other medications they’re taking at the moment, as well. To find out if your medication is an anticholinergic, consult the Indianapolis Discovery Network for Dementia’s list of anticholinergic medications