Millions of people take benzodiazepines every day. Such drugs are variously described as anti-anxiety agents, sedatives, hypnotics (to aid sleep) or benzos for short. At last count about five million Americans got 27 million prescriptions for alprazolam (Xanax). Over four million people received more than 20 million prescriptions for clonazepam (Klonopin). More than two million people filled nearly nine million prescriptions for diazepam (Valium). That does not include lorazepam (Ativan) or temazepam (Restoril). This reader wants to know if clonazepam can trigger dementia? Such a question might not be as far-fetched as you might think.
Benzodiazepines and Dementia?
Q. Clonazepam has affected my memory. Some days I feel like I have amnesia.
I am working with a doctor now to get me off of this drug. A psychiatrist I talked to said it can cause dementia. That scares me. Do you have any suggestions to avoid withdrawal?
A. The connection between benzodiazepines such as alprazolam, clonazepam or diazepam and dementia remains controversial. A study from Korea involving more than 250,000 people concluded that sedatives and sleeping pills significantly increased the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (PLOS One, Sept. 24, 2018).
Older people may be especially vulnerable to harm from benzos. In addition to affecting memory and cognition, such drugs may increase the risk of falls. These drugs are frequently included in lists of medications that are potentially inappropriate for older adults (Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, Jan-Feb. 2017).
Others Are Worried:
This reader is not the only person who has been warned by a physician.
Rose in Pittsburgh, PA has also been scared by her doctor:
“I have been taking clonazepam for 25 years. I take it at night to get to sleep. I had to go to a new psych doctor as mine retired. At my first visit she automatically wanted me to stop taking clonazepam. She said it could cause dementia.
“I said I would if she could give me something to help me sleep that works. She prescribed Vistaril (hydroxyzine). It does not work. I feel like I am not sleeping at all and when I do I am having horrible nightmares. The next day I feel like a zombie.
“I want to go back on the clonazepam. I’ll take my chances with dementia. My memory is already shot. I am only 55 years old.”
You can learn more about clonazepam (and other benzos) and dementia at this link.
Never Stop Clonazepam Suddenly!
Getting off clonazepam or any benzodiazepine should be very gradual. Our free eGuide to Psychological Side Effects has detailed information about discontinuing clonazepam or other benzos. It is available at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com in our Guide section.
It is imperative that anyone who has been on a benzodiazepine for more than a few weeks NEVER stop taking the drug without careful medical supervision. The withdrawal process can take months or longer. It must be very gradual. Here is a link to some symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal.
Share your own benzo story in the comment section below.