Epilepsy medications increase people’s risk of dementia by up to 60 per cent, new research suggests.
Even occasional anti-epilepsy drug (AEDs) use, which are also often prescribed for bipolar and anxiety disorders, significantly raises people’s risk of a decline in their memories or thinking skills, a Finnish study found.
AEDs are thought to increase patients’ risk of dementia by altering communication between chemical messengers, which may accelerate cognitive decline, according to the researchers.
The risk is highest among AEDs such as sodium valproate, which controls electrical functions in the brain to prevent life-threatening seizures, with Epilim typically being a go-to brand in the UK and Ireland.
Study author Dr Heidi Taipale, from the University of Eastern Finland, said: ‘More research should be conducted into the long-term cognitive effects of these drugs, especially among older people.’
Valproate has previously come under fire when MailOnline reported three mothers blame the drug for leaving their children with autism, learning difficulties and incontinence after doctors failed to warn them of its risks during pregnancy.
Around 600,000 people in the UK have epilepsy, of which only 52 per cent are seizure-free. This is thought to be largely due to them receiving the incorrect treatment.
How the research was carried out
The researchers analysed all people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in Finland between 2005 and 2011.
These 70,718 individuals were found via nationwide health registers.
The researchers also examined German data from a health insurance company that covers around one third of residents over 50.
Those over 60 with a dementia diagnosis were included, making up 20,325 participants.
Each of the study’s participants were matched to approximately four controls.
They were all analysed for any anti-epilepsy drug prescriptions.
The findings were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Why is sodium valproate controversial?
According to campaigners, around 20,000 children in the UK have been affected by sodium valproate.
NICE data reveals the drug raises the risk of babies suffering serious developmental disorders by up to 40 per cent and malformations, such as cleft palates or lips, by 11 per cent, if it is taken during pregnancy.
In September last year, campaigners presented evidence to a hearing of the European Medicines Agency in London, revealing that drug regulators knew of the problems as far back as 1973 but did not add warnings to its packaging until 2015.
Last January it emerged a professor from the University of Liverpool is studying a boy affected by sodium valproate syndrome to determine if he developed the condition as a result of his grandmother taking the drug during pregnancy.
FACS Aware, which campaigns for sufferers of foetal anti-convulsant syndromes, is fighting for all drugs containing sodium valproate to have a picture warning against their use during pregnancy on their packaging, as well as increased support for sufferers and better awareness among healthcare professionals.
Cannabis drug halves the risk of seizures in over 40% of epilepsy patients
This comes after research released last February suggested a supplement derived from cannabis halves the risk of suffering a seizure in 44 per cent of epilepsy patients.
Taking cannabidiol (CBD) alongside the commonly-prescribed medication clobazam also makes 10 per cent of epilepsy patients drug-free, a study by Vanderbilt University found.
In addition, the dual treatment enables up to 26 percent of people with epilepsy to reduce their medications’ doses, the research adds.
Introducing CBD into epilepsy patients’ drug regimens also makes 14 per cent feel more alert and better able to communicate, the study found.
CBD is a cannabis-derived nutritional supplement that is thought to possess a range of medicinal benefits and has been reported to help people suffering from migraines, psoriasis, acne and depression.
It does not contain any THC, which is the psychoactive component of cannabis that makes users ‘high’.
Nearly one in three epilepsy patients are resistant to existing treatments and continue to endure seizures.