An academic has called for community pharmacists to review benzodiazepine use among their patients, following fresh evidence linking the drugs with dementia.
Pharmacists should work with GPs and carers to assess prescriptions for benzodiazepines among Dementia patients, Aston University clinical lecturer Ian Maidment told C+D on Thursday (September 11), after a study found taking the drugs for three months or more was linked to up to a 51 per cent increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
Mr Maidment stressed that the study by Canadian and French universities, published in the BMJ in September, did not prove benzodiazepines caused dementia. However, it provided an opportunity to check the drugs were being prescribed correctly, as the media coverage may prompt patients to ask pharmacists about the risks, he said.
Community pharmacists should assess the drugs' suitability as part of a "holistic care model", but they would need training and support to deliver this, added Mr Maidment.
The study of 1,796 people diagnosed with Alzheimer's and 7,184 control patients in Quebec, found that the strength of the association between the disease and benzodiazepines increased with longer exposure to the drugs or when taking longer-acting benzodiazepines, such as diazepam and nitrazepam.
But it was still unclear whether benzodiazepines were a cause of dementia or were being prescribed to treat a condition that was an "early marker" of the disease, the authors said.
The authors said unwarranted long-term use of these drugs was a public health concern and it was crucial for physicians to balance the benefits and risks before initiating or renewing treatment of benzodiazepines in elderly patients or younger adults.
The researchers recommended that the drugs should not be prescribed as an anxiety treatment for more than three months.