Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, October 26, 2012

We don't give medical advice . . .

. . . but, you might want to know that this pretty good study finds that taking benzodiazapines -- i.e. tranquilizers like Valium -- increases the risk of dementia by about 50%.

Guidelines call for these drugs to be used only on a short-term basis, but they are very widely prescribed, they are addictive, and many people take them for years on end. As a matter of fact many people doctor shop to get excessive benzo prescriptions just as others seek opioids.

This study doesn't absolutely drive the final nail into the coffin. It's difficult to correct for confounding by indication in this situation because symptoms that may foreshadow dementia could also be reasons for prescribing and taking these drugs. However, this study is carefully designed to account for that problem as much as possible, and it adds a more powerful and robust finding to a growing body of evidence.

As far as I'm concerned, dementia is the worst thing that can happen to you. It's also really unfortunate for your family and friends, and for society. Now we actually have a way of avoiding a substantial number of cases, by not taking tranquilizers. This is personal, by the way. My father died after a long, horrific journey with dementia. At one point, when he had a crisis, my mother's doctor gave her a big box of Valium. I'm happy to report that I advised her not to take it, and she threw it away.

Unfortunately, it's very difficult to get from findings such as this to real changes in clinical practice.

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