The 10 Drugs Boomers Should Never Take

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We boomers must take care with prescription drugs. We’re far more vulnerable to adverse effects than our kids and some drugs are really bad for our boomer brains.

Main Points

  • Once a prescription drug is approved, researchers lose interest & doctors are free to prescribe it;
  • Boomers are not used in drug trials; we become the guinea pigs later on;
  • Some of the drugs most harmful to boomers are those most prescribed to us;
  • Some drugs for common boomer ailments more than double our risk of dementia;
  • The risk isn’t just from each drug, but from taking more than one.

(If you’re a boomer who values your brain and wants to avoid, prevent or reverse Dementia, check out our eBook: Dementia: Keep Your Marbles. It has the fully story on prescription drugs, other controllable causes of Dementia and 11 practical preventative steps you can take.)

We Become The Guinea Pigs

You see, we boomers are not the original trial guinea pigs. It’s younger, more robust people who are the ones recruited for drug trials and that’s not by accident. Yet, when members of the public, especially of more mature, vulnerable ages, take the same drugs, the results can be significantly skewed, usually not in our favour.

When a marginal drug advantage is applied to a real world population, a small benefit may vanish entirely…

British Medical Journal 2017

In any case, once a drug has been on the market for seven years, doctors will prescribe it freely and researchers will stop looking into it; that is, unless there are adverse effects. If these effects take decades to appear, these drugs could be in use for a long time without further scrutiny. They may only be checked again, if effects are severe and affect many people.

And some drugs definitely have; take common painkillers like Codeine and Fentanyl. After decades in use, the makers of opoids like these finally settled law suits totaling US$50 billion in 2019. Many of us may have taken these familiar drugs for years, never thinking they might be unsafe.

Familiar Old Medications

Other drugs we boomers shouldn’t take are very old and very familiar, too; they’re probably still in our medicine cabinets.

Fortunately, some experts are keeping track of them and their effects. Some experts are particularly interested in how these drugs affect our brains, especially in context with dementia, the #1 killer of Aussie women and #2 of Aussie men.

One such expert was American Consultant Pharmacologist, Dr Armon B. Neel, Jr, who looked into the uses, effects, and modes of action of drugs. Neel is retired now, but he as awarded the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists’ annual award in 2010 for his work. The award is still given out and, these days, it’s named after him.

There are certain drugs you just don’t give old people and NSAIDs are among them.

Dr Armon B. Neel, Jr

Those 10 Drug Types

Neel listed 10 classes of drugs that can cause memory loss and lead to dementia (*two have since been updated). He provided all the reasons and safe alternatives, so it’s well worth the read. The shorthand take-out is: if you’re taking these drugs routinely (especially more than one type), ask your doctor about safer alternatives or non-drug ways of treating your conditions. (The link includes Neel’s recommended alternatives.)

1. Anti-anxiety drugs (Benzodiazepines like Valium® and Zanax®).

2. Cholesterol-lowering drugs (Statins like Lipitor® or Zocor®).*

3. NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs like Ibuprofen® and Celebrex®).

4. Antidepressant drugs (Tricyclic antidepressants like Imipramine® and Amitriptyline®).

5. Narcotic painkillers (Opioids like Codeine and Fentanyl)

6. Parkinson’s drugs (Dopamineagonists like Apomine® and Movapo®).

7. Hypertension drugs (Beta-blockers Presolol® and Trandate®).*

8. Sleeping aids (Non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics like Zolpidem® and Zopiclone®)

9.  Incontinence drugs (Anticholinergics like Darifenacin® and Oxybutynin®)

10. Antihistamines (First-generation like Dimetapp® and Benadryl®).

*These two classes were removed from Neel’s list, citing no causation. There being no links to studies to support this, and a few that challenge it, I’ll leave these two on the list for now.

By now you’re probably saying: ‘Crikey, I’ve taken quite a few of these!’ You might still be taking them.

The effects on our brains vary with the drug type, with frequency of use and with the number of years we take them. Even so, none of these drugs is good for our boomer brains. Some of these drugs are also implicated in other conditions we boomers fear, like cancer and heart disease.

We dig deeper into these drug types and how they increase our dementia risk in our eBook Dementia: Keep Your Marbles.

Variety Not The Spice Of Life

It’s not just specific drugs that endanger our precious grey cells, it’s the fact that we take more than one of them.

It’s a practice called ‘polypharmacy’: the taking of multiple drugs at once (usually five or more) and it’s more common than you may think. A US study found that 40% of people aged over 65 were taking five or more drugs, a 300% increase over the study’s 22-year timeline.

The more drugs a patient is exposed to, the more likely they are prescribed inappropriately.

The Australian Prescriber

In Australia, it’s similar: 40% of people over 70 take 5 drugs or more, mostly to lower blood pressure or cholesterol, or reduce inflammation (like the ones in Neel’s list above). By the time we add Over The Counter (OTC) drugs for colds, headaches, heartburn, poor sleep and more, we boomers are fairly rattling with pills.

Why aren’t we told we’re playing with poison?

The Australian Prescriber makes it very clear: ‘The more drugs a patient is exposed to, the more likely they are prescribed inappropriately.’ The article also warns of the ‘prescribing cascade‘, where a new drug is prescribed to fix the adverse effects of another. Doesn’t this intuitively sound like a bad idea, given potential drug-to-drug interactions?

The key risks from polypharmacy for boomers are falls and cognitive impairment, two of the events most likely to affect our boomer independence – and we most want to avoid.

Find out all more about the prescription drugs which risk your brain, learn about other causes of dementia (some are easy to address) and what you can do to prevent, avoid, even reverse some forms of Dementia in our eBook Dementia: Keep Your Marbles. Polypharmacy is deeply worrying; what you can do about it is deeply empowering.



Discover how Aussie boomers can delay or prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

Kim Brebach

Tracey James

Hello, I’m Tracey James, boomer, former scientist, technical writer and Fixer of Things at M&M. In my spare time, I like to walk, swim and garden.   

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