This article from September 10, 2014 explains how a study that was published in the British Medical Journal found that the long-term use of some anxiety and insomnia medications may increase a person’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease later on in life. The use of benzodiazepines such as Valium, Ativan, Xanax, and Klonopin have been associated with a 51% increased risk for Alzheimer’s, among those who use the drugs for more than three months.

Data was taken over 6 years from 1796 cases of Alzheimer’s disease, and found that the longer these drugs were taken, the higher the risk of developing this disease. It was also found that long-acting forms or extended release drugs were also linked with a higher risk than shorter acting forms of the same medications.

The researchers suggest that benzodiazepine use among older patients presents a public health concern, as there is currently an estimated 36 million people worldwide who suffer from dementia. These types of drugs are frequently prescribed among the aging population due to the fact that anxiety is a common problem in this population. According to data from the National Institutes of Health, anxiety disorders are present in approximately 3 to 14% of older adults.

The findings from this study raise a significant concern for those who take benzodiazepines. It seems that doctors are prescribing more of these medications as the population ages, and although the short-term effects of these drugs may reduce anxiety, the long-term effects are disturbing. This raises the issue of over-prescription of drugs for mental health concerns.